Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Sat Jun 14, 2014 11:54 am 
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This is a much shorter period than last February and March, and a lot of my time was spent seeing ten of the 15 New Italian Cinema series films at Lincoln Center's Walter Reade Theater with a varying but typically mostly older audience.


Open Roads: New Italian Cinema, Lincoln Center, 5-12 June 2014.
Nothing truly outstanding in this series this time, but if the selectors were looking for topical material they indeed found plenty to chew on. There were three coming-of-age-style reviews of decades past, and though not deeply original, they are the most watchable of the ten films I saw. THE FIFTH WHEEL, THOSE HAPPY YEARS, and THE MAFIA NEVER KILLS IN SUMMER, all warm and entertaining. THE FIFTH WHEEL features the winning Elio Germanno as a Roman everyman who stays honest despite crooked associates from Aldo Moro through the Berlusconi era. THOSE HAPPY YEARS is interesting for its treatment of a lesbian affair and the husband's attempts to become a noted avant-garde artist using Seventies-style happenings. THE MAFIA ONLY KILLS IN SUMMER is the most unusual in Pif's self-portrait as a naive would-be journalist passively observing Mafia assassinations, but the second half isn't up to the first. These three are of interest as comments on recent Italian history. Then there are the failed experiments, like THE HUMAN FACTOR, an attempt to turn a police procedural into a meditation on family and morality; TIR , which is a good docudrama about a Croatian trucker, highlighting a European phenomenon, but dramatically not interesting enough; A STREET IN PALERMO, about a strange standoff between two cars occupied by northerners and southerners, is radical in its way and may have much to say about Sicily too, but it drags too much; QUIET BLISS is socio-economic commentary but it is grating and degenerates into soap opera, and the filmmaker would have done better to use professional actors. This is not neorealism, which used real people in roles close to their own lives. I CAN QUIT WHENEVER I WANT may be hilarious to the mainstream Italian audience, and it too is a commentary on the economic crisis, but it reads as a loud, tasteless pastiche on American TV. Gianni Amelio's L'INTREPIDO or LONELY HERO is another commentary on economics and unemployment, a very whimsical but also passionate one; however, it is disjointed and lacks energy, and it becomes too sentimental, as the VARIETY review comments. Andò's LONG LIVE LIBERTY is a vehicle for the superb Toni Servillo, and comes from another more sophisticated, more pan-European cinematic world than these others. So there you are. The first three are fun and entertaining and informative about contemporary Italian history. The rest might interest students of that history too, but not the general audience. I respect Alberto Fasulo, who did the hard work of a documentarian for TIR, but his talents may not be so well suited for making a dramatic feature.

Recent or coming US theatrical releases.


WE ARE THE BEST (Lucas Moodysson 2013). This is an adorable and funny movie about three girls in Eighties Stockholm who start a punk band to be rebels, and everybody seems to like it. I have reviewed it separately. Just see it, if you can. Recommended.


VIOLETTE (Martin Provost 2013). About the radical autobiographical novelist and protege of Simone de Beauvoir Violette Leduc, this is one of two new French biopics shown in New york press screenings during this period, the other being Jalil Lespert's beautiful but somewhat routine YVES SAINT LAURENT. This too is a wonderful-looking film, even more so, especially its Forties clothes and scenes, and it stars (in one of her biggest, but not necessarily best, roles) the always interesting Emmanuelle Devos in the lead, but hopelessly square and timid, particularly given its subject matter of a woman who wrote about lesbianism, illegitimacy, child sexual abuse, and other topics that in the Forties, Fifties, and early Sixties were only beginning to be spoken of. Recommended for students of French culture and particularly twentieth century French literature or fans of the filmmaker or Devos. Screened at the Magno 2 screening room in midtown Manhattan.


YVES SAINT LAURENT (Jalil Lespert 2014). I am waiting for Bertrand Bonello's rival YSL biopic film, which was made later and debuted at Cannes last month, but won't open in France till October. I think and reports indicate that Bonello, whose L'APOLLONIDE - SOUVENIRS DE LA MAISON CLOSE, about a turn-of-the century Parisian brothel, was a sensuous and vivid film, will produce something bolder and more beautiful than Lespert's officially approved version, which is also beautiful and features Pierre Niney, who is long and thin and certainly looks like the young YSL, and has elegant delivery. Recommended for fashionistas. Distribution rights for this one were obtained by Weinstein; let's hope Bonello's gets equal treatment. This first YSL film comes out in the US July 9, 2014 (NYC June 27). Screened at Film Forum.


HELLION (Kat Candler 2014). This was well spoken of at Sundance, particularly for the standout debut performance by Josh Wiggins as the young titular bad boy; as his father we get BREAKING BAD's Aaron Paul. Juliette Lewis and some other kids all do good work. But this story about a broken family on the poor outskirts of suburban East Texas is depressing in more ways than one, because it's a sad story but also because the excellent use of locations and the good acting are wasted on a script that's too fragmented, and never comes together. Rather upsetting experience. I felt my emotions were being played with, without a solid basis or a clear payoff. Sadly, best avoided. Showing at IFC center.


BORGMAN (Alex van Warmerdam 2013). This Dutch director is very skillful and experienced, obviously (this is his eighth film), and there is a certain pleasure for a while in seeing how neatly he orchestrates the invasion of a rich people's home by a mysterious satanic cult leader or maker of malicious mischief and murderer. But then no: too many teases and red herring hints to too many possibilities that are more decoration than the authentic ideas of his models, Michael Haneke and Giorgos Lanthimos. We must not be too hard on this film considering it's the first feature from the Netherlands in 38 years to make it into Competition at Cannes, but it is still best avoided, because it's a slick fake. At IFC Center.


THE INTERNET'S OWN BOY: THE STORY OF AARON SWARTZ (Brian Knappenberger 2014) . This one debuted at Sundance and is being screened for review but is not out till June 27. For me it is a deeply touching and politically significant story that pertains to Internet freedom and government repression, highly relevant current topics about which a lot of detail is provided specific to events in Aaron's brilliant but too soon ended life. He committed suicide last year under pressure from a government indictment with 13 counts. Viewed in an online screener. I'll publish a full-length review around release time.


GORE VIDAL: THE UNITED STATES OF AMNESIA (Nicholas D. Wrathall 2014) . Both this and the Aaron Swartz documentary can be described as hagiography, but Vidal's oddities and excesses are obvious and don't need pointing out, whereas his long life deserves a review, and this one, replete with surprising period stills and films and lots of talking heads, shows his lifelong relevance -- and the people he knew, which is practically everybody and the life he led, which is richly eventful. Several of his novels are milestones; others are packed with American history, of which he clearly had an incestuous knowledge (and an incestuous connection to). But perhaps it's his involvement in polemics, famously his ongoing public feud with the conservative pundit William F. Buckley, Jr. and his non-fiction and articles and, more than that, his public addresses, appearances, and interviews, particularly in the latter decades, that underline his significance. At IFC Center.


NIGHT MOVES (Kelly Reichardt 2014). Some people have been unmoved by this film (which I've reviewed in detail elsewhere) but for me it proved to be gripping and tense-making, as disturbing and involving as anything I've seen in a long time. It conveys a visceral sense of what it might be like to do something very, very illegal in what you think is a good cause and then to find the consequences gradually surrounding and moving in on you. People say Jesse Eisenberg is too nerdy or they don't like him. Watch him here: he's different. This has made me a strong fan of Reichardt after being very alienated by her last one, MEEK'S CUTOFF. Shown at Angelika Film Center, now moved to City Cinemas Village East Cinema.


CHEF (Jon Favreau 2014) Foodie flicks have been done to death, finely made though some of them have been. But one must still make exceptions. Semi-returning to his pre-IRON MAN indie mode (but with support from John Leguizano and Bobby Carnavale and cameos from Scarlett Johannson, Dustin Hoffman, Robert Downey, Jr. and Oliver Platt -- and there's Amy Sedaris too) Favreau, big and convincing as a man in the kitchen, carries most of the movie's weight himself in his lead performance as a successful but stale big restaurant L.A. chef who is forced to quit his job and -- a metaphor, many think, for Favreau himself needing revival after all those mainstream big budget movies -- rediscovering his passion, somewhat implausibly, perhaps, in making Cuban sandwiches in a food truck, while bonding with his young son Percy (a fine Emjay Anthony), who works in the truck too during an inaugural cross-country trip during the boy's summer vacation. This may be mainstream fast food, but not the way Favreau serves it, and it's a musical road picture that's also a touching father-son story. This was a trip to the cineplex (Regal Union Square) that leaves pleasant memories.


THE ROVER (David Michôd 2014). A post-apocalyptic tale ("ten years after the collapse") set in the wilds of Australia and mostly a two-hander with a stony Guy Pearce and odd, goofy Robert Pattinson, this minimalist tale disappointed critics at Cannes in May coming after the director's powerful first feature, the complex gangster family story ANIMAL KINGDOM. It is less interesting and less distinctive. However THE ROVER is still a very well made film. It has great music and sound, as noted by Todd McCarthy, and while it drifts in the second half, every moment is intense, and counts. At Landmark Sunshine.


TEST (Chris Mason Johnson 2013). A film about AIDS in San Francisco with a light touch, perhaps a tad too light given the solemn topic: but some gay men at the time did still live in a quiet, hedonistic, self-development bubble, like the dancer Frankie played by Scott Marlowe here, who continues unsafe sex and practices dance moves 24/7, but worries that he ought to take the new test to see if he has the virus or not. The film focuses very much on the dancing, but then so does Fankie. A moment captured. Opened June 12, seen at Quad Cinema June 16, 2014.

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