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Michael Haneke’s
Amour
MAIN SLATE
50th Annual New York Film Festival
September 28th - October 14th, 2012
Lincoln Center

Written by Michael Haneke.

Starring: Jean-Louis Trintignant, Emmanuelle Riva & Isabelle Huppert.

In French with English subtitles

Reviewed by Frank J. Avella

Michael Haneke’s Amour is an exquisite, deeply moving, highly personal motion picture.

The man who gave us three of the most provocative films of the past decade (The White Ribbon, Funny Games, Cache’) shocks and surprises by telling a simple but devastating story of true love, loyalty and devotion.

Most filmmakers, regardless of their age, would not dare make a film about two octogenarians. Look at all the flack The Iron Lady got because half the story had the audacity to deal honestly with dementia.

But Haneke, never an artist to shy away from the unconventional, is uncompromising in his profound movie about Georges (Jean-Louis Trintignant) and Anne (Emmanuelle Riva) and the difficulties they must face when Anne’s health takes a downward turn.

Georges and Anne are former Parisian music teachers and one day, out of nowhere, Anne has a stroke. She is soon wheelchair-ridden with no feeling on the right side of her body. Things get progressively worse from there.

There are no real surprises here. From the first onset of Anne’s illness the audience can put together what is going to happen. As someone who has taken care of a parent through a debilitating illness to the inevitable, horrible end, I can say that Haneke gets it so right from the claustrophobically shot moments to the frustrations with oneself as well as with the person who is ill to the emotional outbursts to the tender caring times.

Amour can be a grueling sit yet I was strangely unmoved by some of it. Perhaps Haneke’s docu-approach kept me detached. Perhaps it’s because the film hit so close to home that I somehow subconsciously turned myself off. I was, however, moved by the performances. Both Trintignant and Riva are so astonishingly good they break your heart.

And Riva must go the technical distance with her body and speech. She’s remarkable. Along with Marion Cotillard in Rust and Bone, she achieves the sublime by not playing the sympathy card but simply being real with all the anger, frustration and discomfort that comes with the lousy cards we are sometimes dealt.

As the delusional and absent daughter, Isabelle Huppert does so much with such an underwritten role.

Haneke’s magnificent feat with Amour is presenting an old couple as two actual human beings dealing with life’s problems, loving one another and having to make horrifically difficult decisions.

There’s a truly beguiling scene midway through that turns out to be a nightmare Georges is having. It could easily have been part of the narrative with Haneke taking Amour to a new and strange place. And there was a part of me squirming with excitement at the prospect. And another part of me applauding Haneke for staying true to his truly lovely love story.



Robert Zemeckis’
Flight
MAIN SLATE
50th Annual New York Film Festival
Closing Night
September 28th - October 14th, 2012
Lincoln Center

Written by John Gatins.

Starring: Denzel Washington, Don Cheadle, Kelly Reilly, John Goodman, Bruce Greenwood, Brian Geraghty, Tamara Tunie, Nadine Velazquez, Peter Gerety, Garcelle Beauvais, Melissa Leo.

Reviewed by Frank J. Avella

Robert Zemeckis hasn’t made a film in over a decade (Cast Away) and before that made a slew of Hollywood dramedies (Forrest Gump, Back to the Future) that made a lot of money and followed a predominately feel-good formula. Dark, gritty character-studies were not on his agenda or resume. Even his best film, Romancing the Stone, was an action-adventure romp intended to thrill audiences.

Flight is a major departure for Zemeckis (you can intend the pun if you like). From the first few frames you know this isn’t your parents’ Robert Zemeckis. And for two hours he delves into territory I would have never imagined from the director of Who Framed Roger Rabbit.

Alas, by the final reel, he returns to predictable form—with an ending meant to force redemption, more than stay true the characters and situations. But until those last, unfortunate but forgivable, moments—the films is a nasty, exhilaratingly furious treat.

The film centers on airline pilot and alcoholic, Whip Whitaker (Denzel Washington, in the performance of his career). After an all-night sex/booze/dope party in Orlando, Whip prepares for his morning flight to Atlanta by snorting cocaine and drinking some more. His co-pilot (the ubiquitous and impressive Brian Geraghty) is immediately suspicious of Whips behavior.

The next sequence, brilliantly structured and photographed, involves the plane malfunctioning during a storm and Whip forcing the plane upside down so they can emergency land with a glide instead of a full-on crash. Suffice to say the scene is truly riveting and resonates throughout the rest of the movie.

Whip wakes up in the hospital, injured, only to learn that six people were killed. The investigation into the crash soon begins and Whip is forced to confront—or not confront—his drinking problem and whether that had anything to do with the calamity in the sky.

Whip’s story is crosscut with that of Nicole (Kelly Reilly), an addict who ODs and meets Whip in the hospital. They embark on an unlikely but wholly believable romance.

Is Whip a hero despite the fact that he was loaded when he saved lives? That’s one of the more interesting questions the film asks.

Flight contains all the key-Zemeckis elements: nail-biting suspense, eye-poppingly awesome visuals, terrific performances as well as sheer entertainment.

Washington holds the film together and simply kills it as Whip. He’s understated when he needs to be yet rages magnificently in the scenes where he must confront his demons.

Equally good is Reilly, in a career-making turn and one that deserves Oscar consideration.

John Goodman, Bruce Greenwood, Melissa Leo and Don Cheadle all lend great support as well. Goodman’s strut to The Rolling Stones’ “Sympathy for the Devil” is priceless.

Tech credits are fantastic across the boards.

The screenplay, by John Gatins, is well-crafted—sometimes too well-crafted since Flight soars best when it’s messy and nasty and its characters are real and human and deeply flawed.




Leos Carax’s
Holy Motors
MAIN SLATE
50th Annual New York Film Festival
September 28th - October 14th, 2012
Lincoln Center

Written by Leos Carax.

Starring: Denis Lavant, Edith Scob, Kylie Minogue, Eva Mendes & Michel Piccoli.

Reviewed by Frank J. Avella

Leos Carax’s divinely original new film Holy Motors defies true description and left me with a delicious WTF feeling. Like David Lynch at his best (Mulholland Drive), this bizarre concoction will certainly be divisive but its impressive cinematic chutzpah cannot be dismissed.

Having never seen a Carax film before, Holy Motors makes me want to spend time with his entire oeuvre.

The film opens on an audience sitting and seemingly waiting for a film to start. Yet this audience appears oddly still as if we—the audience-- were staring at a painting of an audience—immediately making the viewer aware that so much of what he/she is about to experience will depend on the work he/she does trying to interpret the lunatic narrative about to unfold—funneled through who we are and what we bring to the film ourselves.

And some of it is work. But most of the results are sublime.

Denis Lavant, in a genius, jump-off-the-cliff performance, is our protagonist, Monsieur Oscar. His loyal chauffeur, Celine (a fascinating Edith Scob) picks him up and his day begins. What that day is like should NOT be shared here since Holy Motors works best when you arrive clueless and allow the film to wash over your imagination.

Suffice to say there are audacious moments that feature Eva Mendez and an erection as well as Aussie pop sensation Kylie Minogue doing what she does best, singing.

Carax does not feel the need to spell everything out—or anything for that matter. He doesn’t need to. The beauty of his film is that, love it or hate it, attention must be paid.

Holy Motors is a film that will be most appreciated on the big screen, by people who crave something different. I saw it the same week I saw Paolo Sorrentino’s delightfully weird new work, This Must Be the Place. Both films left me with a hopeful feeling about the future of cinema.

 


 

Roger Michell’s
Hyde Park on Hudson
Main Slate
50th Annual New York Film Festival
September 28th - October 14th, 2012
Lincoln Center

Written by Richard Nelson

Starring: Bill Murray, Laura Linney, Samuel West, Olivia Colman, Elizabeth Marvel, Elizabeth Wilson & Olivia Williams.

Reviewed by Frank J. Avella

The best moments in Roger Michell’s Hyde Park on Hudson, feel like a sequel-of-sorts to Tom Hooper’s The King's Speech. The rest of it plays more like a 1970s TV-movie—which isn’t a bad thing since many made-for-TV films from that decade are quite respected today, but it isn’t the stuff that great films are made of either.

Laura Linney plays Daisy, the 6th cousin of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt. A simple and smart spinster, she is summoned to the Roosevelt Estate in Hyde Park, NY, and soon, finds herself having an affair with the leader of the country.

Bill Murray is FDR. Yes, Bill Murray. And he’s a strong, captivating and believable FDR at that. Murray doesn’t fall too far into the mimicry trap. He gives us a portrayal that relies more on charm, wit, intelligence and perseverance. He is also a man who gets what he wants and, it seems, he wanted women. Many women. And got them.

Although the film is bracketed by Daisy’s story, it’s the least interesting thing about "Hyde Park on Hudson."

The film soars once King George VI and his wife Elizabeth come to visit. It’s 1939 and the war is imminent. FDR and Eleanor (a marvelous Olivia Williams) are about to host for the first-ever time a reigning British monarch. George (or Bertie to his wife) is there mostly to secure the President’s support.

And it is this entire sequence, making up a large chunk of the film, that is entirely engrossing and altogether splendid. (Had the whole film been about the visit, it would have been far more interesting.)

Samuel West is a most affable King George and Olivia Colman is his proper, dignified and loyal wife. Both are struggling with American culture and concerned with being the butt of jokes and not being taken seriously.

When Murray and West come together, the film is simply glorious. Richard Nelson’s clever script, in these scenes, allows us a glimpse into the doubts and fears of these two titans

And when England meets the U.S. in the hot dog sequence, we see what the movie should have and could have been.

All tech credits are admirable although the score (by Jeremy Sams) seems a bit obtrusive at times.

 


 

Ang Lee’s
Life of Pi
Main Slate
Opening Night

50th Annual New York Film Festival
September 28th - October 14th, 2012
Lincoln Center

Written by David Magee.

Based on the novel by Yann Martel.

Starring: Suraj Sharma, Irrfan Khan, Tabu, Rafe Spall, Gerard Depardieu, Adril Hussain, Shravanthi Sainath, Ayush Tandon, Vibish Sivakumar.

Reviewed by Frank J. Avella

Ang Lee’s Life of Pi is simply stunning to watch. It’s a richly satisfying cinematic experience--one of the best of 2012 so far.

Is there any genre of film Ang Lee cannot excel in? I think not. From Brokeback Mountain to The Ice Storm to Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon to Sense and Sensibility (heck, I even really liked his Hulk), Lee manages to challenge audiences by taking a new look at oft-told tales. He’s borderline subversive the way he works within a genre to enrich it by finding the new.

Life of Pi is based on the popular Yann Martel novel and deftly adapted by David Magee (Finding Neverland). Lee manages to perfectly capture Pi’s journey of fear, wonder, pain, loss and, ultimately, survival.

Advancing 3-D technology and introducing it to an adult audience (much in the way Martin Scorsese’s Hugo did), Life of Pi could not have been made a decade ago (when it was first being developed for the screen) but now is a great example of how far we’ve come technologically—the seemingly endless possibilities--but also how the art form can thrive when a true artist steps in and puts his own cine-stamp on a story.

From the wonderful opening sequences to the breathtaking underwater scenes to Pi’s resplendent and frightening encounter with animals—one in particular—Lee grabs the viewer by the mind and says: come imagine with me.

Simply put, Life of Pi is the tale of a boy stranded on a lifeboat with a Bengal tiger. But there is nothing simple about this saga.

Told in flashback, the older Pi (Irrfan Khan) tells his truly astonishing story to a young writer (Rafe Spall).

Young Pi Patel (Suraj Sharma) lives in India with his family and their zoo, where all types of animals thrive—including that tiger Pi tries to befriend--yet soon learns the nature of said beast.

A financial crisis befalls the Patels and they are forced to immigrate to Canada, taking many of the animals with them to sell in North America. During the voyage, the ship sails into a devastating storm that kills almost every person and animal on board. The sinking of the ship is reminiscent of the mesmerizing visuals in James Cameron’s Titanic.

Pi, now 17, survives the disaster and escapes on a lifeboat that also contains an ailing zebra, a psychotic hyena, an orangutan and, yes, the Bengal tiger known as Richard Parker. Darwinism quickly kicks in and the rest of the story is Pi’s defying the odds and managing to stay alive through a legion of calamities.

No need to spew anymore plot as the joy of Life of Pi comes from the experience. I will say that the extraordinary twist at the end left me astonished and brings the film to a level of transcendence.

Suraj Sharma carries the heft of the film on his shoulders and he is more than impressive—his beautiful face slowly aging—his body withering away. It’s a remarkable performance.

Life of Pi is gorgeously shot by Claudio Miranda and has a potent score by Mychael Danna. All tech credits are top-of-the-line. There will be many Oscar nominations.

Pi is on a deeply spiritual journey, wondering about the existence of God and grappling with why tragedy happens as well as a human being’s deeply rooted instinct to survive at any cost. Pi’s strength seems to come from within. His story is a testament to the will we all have.

And Lee’s film is a powerful argument for the existence of the soul.




Dheeraj Akolkar’s
Liv & Ingmar
Cinema Reflected Special Event
50th Annual New York Film Festival
September 28th - October 14th, 2012
Lincoln Center

A Documentary

Reviewed by Frank J. Avella

The great Liv Ullmann lays her feelings bare in the new documentary, Liv & Ingmar, providing insight into her tempestuous relationship with the iconic director Ingmar Bergman. Ullmann helps demonstrate just how often art would imitate life—usually deliberately as Bergman and Ullmann both worked out their demons on celluloid for all to see.

Ullmann is searingly honest about her affair with Bergman and their cohabitation on Faro Island in Sweden as well as the psychological cruelties that followed. She discusses both their insecurities and the enormous pain they would inflict on one another. These moments are peppered with clips from Bergman’s films (often unspecified).

Most interesting is Ullmann’s discussion about her arrival in Hollywood as the “new Garbo” and how she did four studio films in one year and managed to “close down two studios” in the process. Tinseltown had no clue what to do with her talents. Bergman always did.

The two collaborated on twelve films and she directed two of his screenplays. Their enduring, friendship continued until his death. They also had a child together which forever bonded them. Bergman wrote that they were “painfully connected.”

Liv & Ingmar, directed by Dheeraj Akolkar, is visually underwhelming and should have included more film footage of the two outside of explaining their relationship. A big part of what makes this pair one of the greatest teams in film history is the end result of their pain and toil—the art they created, so to not delve into these cherished film moments is a cine-crime.

And while the film touches on some of the Bergman themes such as the existence of evil especially within all men, Akolkar doesn’t back it up with enough proper film clips.

Still the joys of seeing the ever-graceful Ullmann, now 73, still radiant with just the right amount of lines on her face and no hint of plastic surgery-- discussing her life and work with one of the great helmers of all-time-makes this endeavor more than worthwhile.

 



Marina Zenovich’s
Roman Polanski: Odd Man Out
Cinema Reflected Special Event
50th Annual New York Film Festival
September 28th - October 14th, 2012
Lincoln Center

A Documentary

Reviewed by Frank J. Avella

An important sequel to her Emmy-winning 2008 documentary, Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired, Roman Polanski: Odd Man Out is Marina Zenovich’s attempt to make up for the potential damage her first film did to Polanski. It’s also an extraordinary account of the world and U.S. justice system at it’s most paradoxical.

Her first film, which is a intriguing expose and arguably proved that the director was mistreated by the L.A. court, was supposed to help Polanski’s case in the U.S. and, instead, opened a can of worms that would ultimately lead to Polanski’s arrest in Switzerland.

Polanski’s attorneys argued for the case to be dismissed. Instead, Judge Espinosa gave Polanski three months to appear before the courts. A fugitive for over 30 years, Polanski had no intention of returning to the U.S. unless the original agreement was honored.

A few months later, Polanski is about to accept an award at the Zurich Film Festival. The Swiss notify the U.S. authorities about the fact that he will soon be on Swiss soil and he is taken into custody when he lands in Zurich. It’s an interesting point that it wasn’t America that initiated the arrest.

Months go by while the Swiss authorities decide on whether to extradite the 76-year-old to the United States.

During Zenovich’s investigations she uncovers some disturbing information that possibly links the Swiss machinations with ongoing litigation that involve the financial crisis wondering: “why did a country, known for its neutrality, get involved in such a high profile case?”

In addition, Samantha Geimer, the alleged victim of the 1977 rape appears and speaks quite frankly about her feelings about Polanski and the case: “I’ve been victimized by so many other people since that he (Polanski) is at the bottom of the list of people I’m upset with.” We soon discover she is writing her own bio. It’s then revealed that she received a large sum payment from Polanski in the 1980s. Geimer’s mother, a fascinating figure who may or may not have nudged her daughter into doing the photo shoot that would lead to the offense, is also finally interviewed.

So many people involved in the case refused to be interviewed for the follow-up film (including most of the attorneys) but Zenovich still manages a riveting 88-minute piece that asks many important questions. Some of the larger issues make Polanski seem like a continuous pawn in the ambitious games played by people in power as well as constant fodder for a ravenous media looking to (in Polanski’s words) serve his head on a plate.

The film shows just how polarizing Polanski is to people. Pedophile who should rot in prison. Misunderstood and persecuted, genius filmmaker. The twain rarely meet. And nothing will change that it seems.

It was recently reported that Polanski’s fitting plan to make a film about the Dreyfus Affair would be placed on temporary hold while he adapted Venus in Fur for the screen. The satiric story centers on an erotic power play between a director and a would-be actress and will star his wife, Emmanuelle Seigner.

How dare he? Or: Good show!

Depends on where you fall on the Polanski counter.




Lee Daniels’s
The Paperboy
Main Slate
50th Annual New York Film Festival
September 28th - October 14th, 2012
Lincoln Center

Written by Pete Dexter & Lee Daniels. Based on the novel by Pete Dexter.

Starring: Zac Efron, Nicole Kidman, Matthew McConaughey, John Cusack, Macy Gray, Scott Glenn, David Oyelowo, Nealla Gordon.

Reviewed by Frank J. Avella

The Paperboy is an intriguing but lurid trash-tale of harrowing violence and sexual dysfunction in the Deep South.

Based on an acclaimed novel by Pete Dexter (who co-wrote the screenplay), The Paperboy is a nasty, dirty, sexy tale that had me in it’s grip for the first two thirds but, then, revolted me with its excessively violent and ridiculous dénouement.

The narrative is conveyed in flashback via the memory of the maid (quirky Macy Gray) of a newspaper publisher (Scott Glenn) who has two sons: Ward (Matthew McConaughey), a journalist and his younger brother Jack (Zac Efron), a paperboy.

A fat, racist cop is murdered and a repellent hick named Hillary Van Wetter (a one-note John Cusack) is arrested for the crime. Enter Charlotte Bless (Nicole Kidman) a slinky piece of white trash who gets off on writing to prisoners. Assured of Hillary’s innocence, the blond and buxom bombshell enlists Ward and his black partner Yardley (David Oyelowo) to prove Hillary’s innocence so she can marry him upon his release. Be careful what you wish for.

It would be obvious to the most bumpkin of folk that Hillary is a dangerous slab of swamp trash but, upon meeting him for the first time—instead of running for the hills--Charlotte puts on a sex show for his satisfaction right in the prison—with Ward, Yardley and Jack watching.

Disgusted but infatuated, Jack pursues Charlotte. We learn way too much about Ward’s proclivities and the plot festers and boils over with C-movie residue.

The actors cannot be faulted for this mixed bag mess of a motion picture. They
all go above and beyond giving gutsy performances. Chief among them is the forever-fascinating Nicole Kidman who has a field day embodying cheap Christmas trash while giving us glimpses of just how damaged and vulnerable Charlotte is.

Matthew McConaughey is having an astounding year. After his creepy turns in Magic Mike and Killer Joe, I am not surprised by how layered his Ward is, I’m simply agog at how good he continues to be and perplexed about where this actor has been hiding his talents all these years.

Zac Efron already proved he can handle non-High School Musical parts with a good performance in Me and Orson Welles. Here he conveys pent up horniness to perfection and acts as the film’s eye-candy romping around in his tightie-whities.

I wish this movie lived up to the awesomeness of its intrepid actors.

So who’s to blame? Well, there’s the source material to consider. I haven’t read the novel but if it’s a faithful adaptation then it never lent itself to anything worthwhile to begin with. The screenplay itself is compelling to a point but then seems to want to sucker punch the viewer over and over…for no good reason. Since the film and novel aren’t based on factual events what is the point of the gruesome, stomach-churning ending?

And then there’s Lee Daniels. I was not a big fan of his direction of Precious. I felt his manner and style was all over the place. Here it’s worse. Daniels tells his story in the clumsiest most pretentious of ways--pretension for the sake of pretension. When in doubt tint the color or shake the images…and all of that would be fine if there was some cohesive style about the film—but there isn’t. Even his use of music felt wrong.

I’m sure The Paperboy will be divisive with fans and foes alike. I cannot get on either bandwagon. It’s a trainwreck for certain, but a bloody well-acted one.


 

 

 

 

 

 


 

 


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