CANNES 09: "Antichrist" Gets a Stoning

Yet, despite all of the extreme responses this film has received since its screening in France, I still really want to see it, and may even want to see it more now. Good or bad, it looks damn interesting. (Ebert said it may, in fact, be unendurable, but it's not a boring movie, and that's plenty good to me.) And even if director Lars von Trier is the most self-righteous man on the planet, he makes some courageous films that look astounding, here aided by longtime collaborator Anthony Dod Mantle, who just won the cinematography Oscar for "Slumdog Millionaire." (Trier's a little like Kanye West in this regard: makes some irresistible stuff, but I abhor the man himself.) I enjoyed what he said at the conference that followed a few days after the screening where he was heckled to justify his work. (Anne Thompson has more from the conference.) He said something to the effect of "You are all my guests...I don't have to justify myself..." or this little picture of his, which he called "a dream" and has on several occasions also called his form of therapy after a bout of depression, and this little picture is a piece of his mind and soul. He is not our guest, so he doesn't have to humor us.

While not every reaction has been pure hatred and disgust, I think the Spartan yelling match is going to deem the dissenters the winner for the time being. Its chances at wide domestic release and/or success are in jeopardy. But I think they'll come around. Eventually. I think.

Do bad reviews excite you?

IMAGE from: Slashfilm


This Ain't Your Daddy's "Sherlock Holmes"

That's very quickly become the mantra of contemporary action flicks. Take out all that's old or suggests aging (even take the old people themselves out - was "Star Trek" not commanded by twenty-somethings?) and replace it with the modern, the chic, and the sexy. Not a bad thing, but the success of these films, their popularity and how fashionable they've become in other genres speaks volumes about the state of the world now. Or at least America. We no longer trust a 66-year old Harrison Ford to save us from the likes of an immaculately-faced Cate Blanchett as a Commie in an update to the "Indiana Jones" saga, so we turn to a young, baby-faced but rugged and badass Shia Labeouf dressed in not-yet broken-in leather and rolled jeans (channeling Marlon Brando's jaded but brisk persona) as protector. That's more like it. (Bruce Willis and "Die Hard" can replace Ford and "Indiana Jones" with Justin Long in the Labeouf role.)

The ripened ages of both Jude Law, 36, and Robert Downey, Jr., 44, shouldn't be an issue for the demographics that are naturally attracted to franchises like Trek, Indy, Batman, and Bond (anyways, they have the gorgeous and very elegant Rachel McAdams, 30, to appease them), but it is somewhat of an oddity considering the company. Many of the big pictures and blockbusters that boast expensive and flashy action sequences have been skewing younger when it comes to their protagonists (Harry Potter and Transformers have teen heartthrob heroes; and both the new Bond and Capt. Kirk are younger than their predecessors), and I wonder if anyone will pay attention to age in the months leading up to release. "Old Detectives from Literature Become Less Old Crimefighters in Pic!" The film, directed by the warden of urban mob films Guy Ritchie, does kind of avert the formula by going gritty, so maybe it's a non-issue (not helped by me discussing the tenets of this apparently new zeitgeist). I suppose Christian Bale, 35, and Daniel Craig, 41, both aren't exactly young anymore, so let's rework this: modern and techy goes with young and clean-looking; gritty and urban with slightly older, coarser sexuality.

I'm relieved the film doesn't bear too heavy a resemblance to another steampunk property from the world of comics (to make it clear: this is based on a depiction of the character by comic book writer Lionel Wigram), "The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen" what with its cast of brutes, assassins and, apparently, magicians and its foray into not merely crimefighting, but world-saving. That other film was laughable, and more absurd than was likely intended. But the film does also strike me as too strongly farcical, which is an asset in the arsenals of both Downey, Jr. and director Ritchie, but here it's much too strong. We'll see how it turns out.

Is Sherlock a sacred cow to you?

IMAGE from: Shockya.com
TRAILER from: Awards Daily


"The Road" Headed South?

Often when a discrepancy in plot exists between a novel and its adapted cinematic counterpart, I excuse it and name it to the innate qualities and constraints that separate them as creative mediums. I find it odd when folks assess a film's success by its ability to imitate the events of a book, chronology and all, rejoicing when there are few and feeble or no attempts at all at striking out new thematic territory. Because then what's the point? Why make the film and return to the material? (I, of course, only mean this when the essential ingredients that define a work are still present.) As long as the heart of whatever is being adapted finds its way into the film - or in deleted scenes included on the DVD - then filmmakers can refashion the plot and reinterpret motives and motifs all they please. It's minutiae. The canon of the mythology can accommodate the change in composition. Just like it accommodates variation in audience interpretation. (Are there very many books or films where a thing and all that has to do with the thing must be fixed in order to achieve an adequate understanding or emotional response?)

But, having read Cormac McCarthy's "The Road," the inclusion at the beginning of the trailer (our first real glimpse of the thing, which looks bleak and haunting and glorious overall) of news reports that seek to explain or explore in greater (unnecessary) detail how the end of the world came about, is just gratuitous. And, apparently, it's misleading; according to Esquire and the filmmakers (and asserted in no small amount of rhetoric by Harvey Weinstein), none of the first few seconds will be in the final picture. So, I have to ask: then why? Not only will the intro of that trailer (below) not be in the film, which is deceptive, it ends up serving the function of clumping the adaptation in with other post-apocalyptic films that use, by and large, the same phenomena/explanation if not the same imagery as those initial shots of catastrophic phenomena. "I Am Legend," "28 Days Later," "The Happening," "The Quiet Earth," even "Mad Max." As the title suggests, the narrative is not at all about the 'how' but the 'what now?' and the journey for recovery and survival. This is a situation where I would suspend my traditional view on mimicry in adapting other works on film and say that if the film does use the stock footage to launch the survival narrative of the father and son characters, then it's a step in the wrong direction. The opposite direction, even.

Setting up the meat of the film, the road movie aspect, within the context of post-apocalyptic America is essential, yes, but juxtaposing these characters as a response to the terrifying end-of-the-world events that preceded it and showing those events as possible explanation widens the scope of the film so that these sympathetic characters serve as allegorical figures, stand-ins for the human race (which they aren't, the book chronicles their expedition in what might be documentary fashion, not as models of behavior or decision but individual people handling something bigger than them). It also cheapens and dilutes the impact of the narrative by setting in expectations that the film might seek an explanation or arrive at finality to postmodern society. It would become a horror-suspense-thriller about finding solace or the cure in a dead world. (I don't think this would spoil anything, but there are no cures at the end. A world no longer with history doesn't have any determined end point.)

I'm assured by this wonderful article in Esquire by Tom Chiarella, which stops at 3300 words, a rarity in movie journalism these days. This kind of writing I sorely miss. I was not only reminded of the things I loved about this book, but the writing achieved greater nuance through the lens of Chiarella whose prose is as direct as author Cormac McCarthy's is spare. An excerpt via Awards Daily:

Bob Weinstein rolls those trailers, each one assumes the predictable arc of a story compressed to its essence. There is a speed to them that the actual movie — which I saw before seeing the trailers — does not possess or seek to possess, an urgency that feels manufactured. The music is pulse-pounding and urgent, driven to create absurd expectations of action in a movie that quietly elicits worry about the relative friability of the invisible paths that exist between people and what they need. Still, every utterance, every cry for help or hand clasped across the mouth of the boy to suppress a sob, is a fair-enough emanation from the heart of the movie.

The odd thing is, the start of each trailer includes glimpses of a storm, panicky news footage, little puzzle pieces of the world before it ended. No one — not the director or the myriad producers, not the novelist or the screenwriter — had ever even hinted at how it happened, until this.

For someone who loves the book, for anyone who knows the story going in, this is a moment you hoped would never come. Why remind us of the reductive logic of cause and effect? Before the question can be asked, Weinstein stands up, offers his hand, and says, “Okay, we’re going with the first one.” He gives no rationale. And so it seems the metonymic references to the national news, to the weather, to presumed military conflicts laid in as a tonally quiet explanation of what is never known in book or movie, for now will stay in the trailer.

On the other side of the planet, at home in Australia, Hillcoat’s been hearing about these trailers. “We’re so conditioned by postapocalyptic films to be centered on a big event, and they become this high-concept thing. And here there’s this total absence, this negation of explanation. We have to stay with that. So yeah. That’s gonna be a challenge.”

I read the whole thing on my BlackBerry, and again online, and it just makes me more and more intensely excited about seeing this film. (I've also adopted a new goal: to one day write for Esquire. Great articles and topics. Not nearly as surface-level as I once thought.) It does concern me that director John Hillcoat has not been included in how this film gets sold, which makes me afraid that come release day, I'll be surrounded by loud dudes hoping to see some intricate physical action sequences and monsters. That the trailer also sells the "cannibals" as the primary antagonists in the film is another point that I want to contend with that is inaccurate, and hopefully not indicative of anything in the actual film. The primary antagonist isn't other people with crippled ethics and empty stomachs, it's the specter of death itself, and the looming notion that the task of survival can and will at any point become a one-man game, with neither father nor son knowing who would be most fit to stick to the course. But, as I'm reminded by Ryan Adams at AD, these are the people that marketed "The Reader" to $83 million by selling it as a steamy romance instead of as a Holocaust film. These guys, especially Weinstein, want to sell those tickets.

Esquire's calling it the "Most Important Movie of the Year," and that's enough to get my money.

Does "dark and depressing" sound appealing to you?

IMAGE from: Squidoo
TRAILER from: Awards Daily


Coppola's "Tetro"

I love the cinematography and look of this film so far, and the posters are beautiful as well. There's three I've found (via Awards Daily), but the one included here is my favorite - evocative use of color in those light flares and the situating of the text (and the choice of font itself) atop the shot of Vincent Gallo and his brother would make for a perfect Criterion Collection cover. Slap on a "Director Approved" sticker and the neat letter-c logo and you're set. I'd buy that. Well, if the movie turns out, then I'd buy it. This is the first Francis Ford Coppola's written personally since "The Conversation" so hopefully that bodes well for the picture as a whole. (Criterion doesn't currently have any Coppola films in their collection, but I'd say this and "The Conversation" could surely, fittingly, get the ...ahem, conversation started.) The film's formula looks astoundingly fine on paper: Greek tragedy-like story involving an Italian musician father + Osvaldo Golijov to provide sweeping music on that front, whose score sounds at least ten steps away from a Nino Rota composition + immigrant family struggles, a la "The Godfather" + achingly beautiful Spain + Maribel Verdu to romance us as the girlfriend + Vincent Gallo under the direction of Coppola (the name of the game is restraint, Mr. Gallo) + Pedro Almodovar vet Carmen Maura in a mentor-role to play opposite Gallo = Cannes/Oscar glory? One can dream.

I've always thought that the circumstances that perpetually surround Coppola have been what has made his output drop - those expectations that he will conjure up another film-opera of dramatic grandeur like "Godfather" are hard to work with/through/around. He is actively trying to survive what George Lucas aggressively seeks to sustain. That past glory. Coppola, like Lucas, is a dynamic director and his projects ("The Conversation," "Apocalypse Now," "Bram Stoker's Dracula," even "The Outsiders") reveal latent idiosyncracies that were either too transparent, rudimentary or non-existent "Godfather"-era and they show his inclination to refashion his style with every picture. ("Dracula" strikes me as his most different project, but they all possess something unique from the others.) That's why so many people feel that the new "Star Wars" trilogy didn't work - Lucas is a different filmmaker with a different economy but the material and its fans demanded consistency, continuity. Coppola's fans work the same way. Of the "Film School Generation" the only one who's been allowed to carve out new territories is Steven Spielberg, whose projects combine the economy of an indepedent film (even titans like "Munich" and "Minority Report" took only a couple weeks to actually shoot) with the resources of typical Hollywood. I'd go as far as to say that while Spielberg has fashioned some real marvels, Coppola is the real technical genius, Spielberg just knows people and knows how to make them shine.

Here's hoping that Coppola finds himself even further revived with "Tetro" after the lukewarm reception "Youth Without Youth" received. He once said that he's only been able to make movies again (this was around the time "Youth" was in production) because he was inspired by the advances his daughter, Sofia, has been able to make with limited budgets that was the norm back during the New Hollywood days ("Easy Rider," "Bonnie & Clyde," etc.). Coppola's a step away from that generation, so it'll be exciting to see how he handles old sensibilities in new environments.

If you'd like to see the first three minutes of "Tetro," take a trip to Kris Tapley's In Contention site which has a nice embedded video. I've gone on for too long, and I don't want to clutter this post up even further. Tapley's also got some great info from Coppola on what his literary and cinematic inspirations were for this film.

Is Coppola making an offer you can't refuse?

TRAILER from: In Contention
POSTER from: Awards Daily


"Ponyo" or: One-Sheet on the Web by Disney

I noticed that the poster doesn't actually have the film named as "Ponyo on the Cliff by the Sea" any longer, which I guess is great for those guys who put the titles up on the marquee at the cineplex and for people who found it clunky (like me). But the title was good for at least partly specifying what the film's setting is and what it's about (my assumption, of course). And the original title was more musical and fun to say, not that "Ponyo" on its own isn't fun to roll off the tongue. The poster is as effervescent and enchanting - though minimalist, as the others before it - as it was always expected to be, with or without the rest of the title, and in the end this is a Hayao Miyazaki film so it's all about the visual detail and simple themes. This, like Pixar's "UP," looks like it's to be dominated by beautiful pastels and primary colors. The poster doesn't disappoint. The cast doesn't seem like it will, either.

Miyazaki films are also, to me, all about their translation in the West, which includes the dubbing, so while I'm excited about this cast of talents (Cloris Leachman, Tina Fey and Lily Tomlin in animated form - yes!) I'm not entirely convinced just yet. I either absolutely adore the dubbing ("Howl's Moving Castle," "Princess Mononoke") or am irked by it (don't go crazy on me, "Spirited Away") and this seems to have not only more characters to voice, but more big-namers involved, likely at the hands of Disney and John Lasseter - who is Miyazaki's heir to the animated throne. This makes the film vulnerable to mediocre dubbing: most of these actors aren't known for their vocal expressiveness (Matt Damon, I'm looking at you) and most of them are well-known which means they might've just gotten the job for marketing purposes. Hopefully knowing how popular and acclaimed Miyazaki's previous films have been has pushed them all to really hit the limits to their acting skill - using only your voice is hard.

Has this film charmed its way 'onyo' anticipated list?

UPDATE: In Contention's Kris Tapley notes that the film was only retitled here in the U.S. It'll retain its original title in at least Japan, where it's likely to shoot to the top of the box office for the remainder of the year.
UPDATE: It's also worth mentioning that Ain't It Cool also has a shot of the film itself, link below.

POSTER from: Ain't It Cool via In Contention and Slashfilm