Thursday, May 31, 2012

Blu-Ray Review - Ingmar Bergman's Summer Interlude [Criterion]


Befitting its title, Summer Interlude represents a moment of transition in the career of Ingmar Bergman. Already five years and nine feature films into his career, the Swedish master would pivot decisively with this by turns serene and devastating 1951 film, which solidified an array of themes and aesthetic distinctions which he would skillfully enhance and expand on for the remainder of his working life.

The darkly intimate character studies of Bergman's formative years, among them Thirst and To Joy, yielded, as the decade turned, to a preoccupation with nostalgia and the transience of love as a kind of synchronized waltz with the changing of the seasons. The characters in Summer Interlude perfectly embodied this period of artistic growth through a naïve romanticism—eventually manifesting itself as an acute sense of maturation—a facing-up to life's unexpected turns of event and, as a result, cultivating a determinism within both Bergman and his protagonists, which each would carry through an unforeseen future.

Cannes 2012: Days 11 & 12 - Mud + Beyond the Hills + The Best of the Fest

Cannes finishes with up-and-comer Jeff Nichols' Mud and Romanian Cristian Mungiu's Beyond the Hills and we rank the best of Cannes 2012.
The Cannes Competition line-up is traditionally an exclusive gathering of established auteurs or rising young filmmakers who have paid their dues competing in other strands of the fest’s vast official selection. It can therefore take someone like Hong Sang-soo multiple Un Certain Regard selections before he finally gets invited to main competition (as he finally did this year with his very fine In Another Country). Meanwhile, there are directors like Ken Loach, who, once having breached the Competition, get a seemingly free pass to future births, no matter the quality of the submitted work. By these standards, then, one of the more unexpected inclusions in this year’s line-up was Jeff Nichols, a young American director who’s previous CV includes only two films, the under-seen Shotgun Stories and last year’s Critic’s Week winner, Take Shelter. But I certainly don’t begrudge Nichols or his new film, Mud, this opportunity: Based on the excellent Take Shelter alone, a fighting chance at some legitimate Cannes hardware is more than appropriate, even without working his way up the proverbial totem, cutting his teeth multiple times over in less visible line-ups.

Cannes 2012: Day 10 - Cosmopolis + 11.25 The Day He Chose His Own Fate + The Taste of Money

David Cronenberg directs and writes this adaptation of Don DeLillo’s Cosmopolis, Koji Wakamatsu's take on Yukio Mishima in 11.25, and the really weak The Taste of Money from Korea's Im Sang-soo.
With so many returns to the filmmaking fold after prolonged absences at this year’s Cannes Film Festival, it became easy to overlook the fact that David Cronenberg, one of the higher profile director’s in this year’s Competition, was in a sense returning as well. Returning, not to directing (his last film came out not even one year ago), but to a style of filmmaking that he had worked toward disguising over the last ten years. Over this period, Cronenberg has mainly taken to visualizing other people’s material, generally imbuing both the author’s original text and the screenwriter’s adaptations (Spider, A History of Violence, A Dangerous Method) with his career-long thematic concerns. So while these pictures, all very good to great, feel very much of a piece with Cronenberg’s catalogue, there was an unhinged, stylistic provocation missing—very much intended, but the distance between, say, Crash and A Dangerous Method, is about as extreme an artistic divide in contemporary cinema.
 

Cannes 2012: Day 9 - Student + In the Fog

Day 9 sees Kazakhstan's Darezhan Omirbaev adapt Crime and Punishment with Student and Sergei Loznitsa’s meditation on the often numbing day-to-day routine of war, In the Fog.
Part of the fun of a major film festival is discovering hidden gems or correcting personal cinematic blind spots. I experienced a bit of both on the ninth day of the Cannes Film Festival this year, after hearing a couple of glowing endorsements from colleagues for Darezhan Omirbaev’s Crime and Punishment adaptation, Student. Until now, the Kazakhstani Omirbaev had eluded me, his films so lacking in distribution that I’ve heard of virtually none of them, despite being now 20 years into a relatively fruitful career and already having won the top prize in the 1998 Un Certain Regard strand at Cannes for Tueur a gages. He now he’s returned for the third time to compete in Un Certain Regard with Student, a stark, uninflected character study transposing the themes of Dostoyevsky's famous novel to modern Kazakhstan. Being unfamiliar with the remainder of his work, I can’t say where this falls in the man’s filmography, but I do know it’s one of the best films I’ve seen in the last few days of the fest—the kind of thing that will probably never be distributed Stateside and thus makes sifting through opinions and taking scheduling risks worthwhile at such a vast festival.
 

Cannes 2012: Day 8 - On the Road + Post Tenebras Lux

Mexican filmmaker Carlos Reygadas' Post Tenebras Lux is the most visionary film of this year's Cannes festival. Meanwhile Walter Salles takes on Jack Kerouac’s cult coming-of-age novel, On the Road.
Fair or not, a couple films had targets on their back coming into Cannes this year. Depending on who you ask spoke with, either Walter Salles’ On the Road or Lee Daniels’ The Paperboy were ripe for disaster. Indeed, I was skeptical enough of the latter to skip it entirely (I opted for sleep—a lot of it. Which is why this dispatch arrives a little later than planned). Unlike most, however, I had no expectations whatsoever for On the Road, Jose Rivera’s adaptation of Jack Kerouac’s cult coming-of-age novel and one of many texts posited as “unfilmmable”. I’m not sure if I’d go that far, since the rough skeleton of a good film is evidenced sporadically in Salles’ version; but he and Rivera would have done well to to fortify the structure of their film, which goes all-in with the episodic nature of the novel. Yet in their resignation to it’s wandering gait, they’ve lapsed on cinematic translation, which may have, amongst other things, condensed the prose into more potent, less repetitive stop-overs.
 

Cannes 2012: Day 7 - Killing Them Softly + Holy Motors

Cannes rolls along with Andrew Dominik’s anticipated return, Killing Them Softly, and Holy Motors, the first film from Leos Carax in 13 years.
I’ve noted the relative abundance of American productions in Competition at this year’s Cannes Film festival in a prior dispatch. But if that wasn’t curious enough, the programmers here have made the interesting decision of screening a majority of these during the last half of the festival. In fact, beginning with Wednesday’s premiere of Killing Them Softly, the final five Competition screenings are all products of the States, albeit made in some cases by foreign directors. There’s been disgruntled chatter about why these, for the most part, highly anticipated films have been scheduled in this manner, as many critics leave the fest a number of days prior to the official closing ceremony. Because of this, and considering the gradual increase in quality these last couple days, this seemed to have all the makings of a backloaded festival, whereas most Cannes line-ups reveal the goods straight away. But following the unfortunate concessions of Lawless—and bracing for the impending critical darts aimed squarely at both On the Road and The Paperboy—a lot was riding on Killing Them Softly, Andrew Dominik’s anticipated return to the director’s chair after a five-year pause following 2007’s contemporary classic, The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford.
 

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Cannes 2012: Day 6 - You Ain't Seen Nothin' Yet + Barbara

Day six brings perhaps the final film from French legend Alain Resnais, whose You Ain’t See Nothin’ Yet has a shot at the big prize. Meanwhile New German Cinema movement director Christian Petzold returns with Barbara.
Fifty years is a long time to wait for anything, let alone a prize from a festival located in a country who’s cinema you’ve helped define. But that’s where 90-year-old Alain Resnais finds himself in 2012, at the Cannes Film Festival, 53 years after his debut feature, Hiroshima mon amour, won a special prize at the fest. In a neat connection, Emmanuelle Riva, who I’m guessing takes home the Best Actress prize this year for Amour, starred in Resnais’ debut. His 18th (and potentially final) feature, the appropriately titled You Ain’t See Nothin’ Yet, marks his latest attempt at snatching the Palm d’Or, an award he’s arguably had coming to him for the entirety of his career, since his days unintentionally spearheading the nouvelle vague (Hiroshima, one of the movement’s key texts, was notoriously left out of Competition because of it’s subject matter). If he does win, however, it thankfully won’t only be a result of longevity and outcries of being “overdue.” The charming, slyly brave You Ain’t Seen Nothin’ Yet finds Resnais’ aesthetic prowess in fine form, continuing a run of twilight-era films nearly as radical as what he was doing with the form in the 1960s and ‘70s.
 

Cannes 2012: Day 5 - Amour + In Another Country + Like Someone In Love

Day five witnesses a trio of films from some of the artform's leading lights: Michael Haneke returns with Amour, Hong Sang-soo competes with In Another Country, and the incomparable Abbas Kiarostami produces a new masterwork.
It’s five days into the Cannes Film Festival, but today feels like the day when things finally hit their stride. There’s been a handful of very strong films (Ulrich Seidl’s Paradise: Love, Raoul Ruiz’s La noche de enfrente) in the various line-ups, but until today, nothing that felt like a capital-E event, works to inspire intense dedication, fierce argument, and private contemplation in equal measure. Two of the three premieres I caught on Sunday, however, firmly stand in that elite category—and the other marks yet another strong addition to a subtly complex filmography.

Cannes 2012: Day 4 - Lawless + Antiviral + La noche de enfrente

Cannes continues with John Hillcoat's Depression-era Lawless, first time director Brandon Cronenberg's Antiviral, and a special screening of legendary Chilean director Raoul Ruiz's La noche de enfrente.
When the Competition lineup for the 65th annual Cannes Film Festival was announced a few weeks back, two questions came immediately to the fore: Why aren’t any female filmmakers represented, and after a 2011 slate that featured four?”; And, “What’s with the generous inclusion of so many American films?” I don’t have an answer for the former, particularly with the quality of some of the films included. But in regards to the latter, in addition to fest opener Moonrise Kingdom, there are a whopping six more American films in the Competition strand this year (for comparisons sake, there were two last year, and as a fest that prides itself on international democracy, it’s rare to see the selection committee so liberal with the national selection ratio). Would these films really be that good—or worse, were the other foreign products so disappointing as to not warrant inclusion (well, I’m here, and I can tell you that’s certainly not the case). Or were there other factors at play, something that would facilitate a Lee Daniels film (um, for example) in the main category of the world’s biggest film festival?

Cannes 2012: Day 3 - Tabu + No

Cannes offers up Pablo Larrain’s No, the rising Chilean director’s latest and most direct indictment of the Augusto Pinochet reign yet and Miguel Gomes’ Tabu, which is something of a new cinematic landmark.
Being my first time at Cannes, I’ve quickly come to find out that half (if not all of) the secret to a satisfying festival experience is quite simple: pacing. There are too many films for any one person to physically be able to see anyway, so why not do your body a favor and not rush anything—work, play, relaxation, anything. Granted, there hasn’t been a whole lot of time to relax since the fest began, but as assignments pile up and activities present themselves, it’s become easier and more practical to space things out and enjoy the two weeks as it comes to me.

Cannes 2012: Day 2 - Rust & Bone + Mekong Hotel + Paradise: Love

Cannes coverage continues with reviews of Jacques Audiard hotly tipped Rust & Bone, a short film from Thailand’s sensational Apichatpong Weerasethakul, and the latest from severe Austrian auteur Ulrich Seidel.
I mentioned intense jet lag in my day one Cannes dispatch, and while an early press screening of Wes Anderson’s heartfelt Moonrise Kingdom found me relatively fresh, if disoriented, from a day-and-a-half without proper rest, an evening screening of Yousry Nasrallah’s After the Battle saw me finally succumb to the laws of nature. Sure enough, I was dozing during the opening credits, and from there was forced to submit to my body’s need for sleep. From the sound of it, I didn’t miss much. Indeed, After the Battle has been roundly maligned, and judging from the over half dozen folks who kept waking me up as they walked out on the film, my body may have made the proactive choice, particularly with a day two slate of films holding interesting potential waiting in the wings.

Cannes 2012: Day 1 - Moonrise Kingdom

Opening the festival with Moonrise Kingdom, beloved indie icon Wes Anderson’s first live action film in five years, only buoyed the camaraderie felt by Cannes attendees.
I’d imagine the trip to Cannes isn’t the most convenient trek for even the most knowledgeable resident of its parent country’s closest surrounding cities. More or less isolated along the coast of the French Riviera, the port city of Cannes transforms once a year from simply one of the more beautiful of coastal locales into a melting pot of industry and journalistic humanity gathered in the name of international cinema’s most prestigious film festival, which just so happens to take place along one of Europe’s most sun-kissed beach communities. With the closest airport located well enough outside it’s hill-shrouded borders, Cannes is limited to vehicular and nautical access, its narrow streets overflowing with scooters, buses, taxi cabs, and, during these two weeks in particular, thousands upon thousands of tourists and film fans.
 

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Record Review: Keiji Haino / Jim O'Rourke / Oren Ambarchi - Imikuzushi


Among other more unfortunate effects, the age of over-sharing has enabled every artist, from the most fresh-faced indie upstart to the most dedicated mainstream careerist, to share the collective fruits of their day-to-day labor, no matter necessity, demand, or quality. Amongst the avant-garde, however, not a whole lot has changed. Whether noise, ambient, free-improv, or drone-leaning, musicians operating within these far-flung spheres have long made a practice of documenting their every move, leading to discographies vast with limited-run cassettes, small-press vinyl, and hand-made CD-Rs. Being a field of such niche interest yet immense dedication, generating curiosity in these releases runs roughly parallel to the more visible, label-endorsed albums that find their way to more ears. The spontaneity of these artist’s processes create a scattershot sense of consistency, with interesting and non-interesting work alike inevitably finding its way out there, showing little regard to artistic trajectory or audience expectations.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Record Review: Lower Dens - Nootropics


Baltimore’s Lower Dens make music that reads interesting on paper, sounds only slightly less intriguing in execution, and leaves in its wake vapor trails of aural stimuli, tendrils of melody and vaporous atmospherics that slowly recede from memory the further you move from the actual experience. They carry a built-in aura, something a myriad of bands have artificially constructed over the past few years that seems to somehow flow naturally from them, without attempting to coax undue feeling from purposefully sterile environs. None of this is meant to be interpreted as a shortcoming–what they do, they happen to do well, and even at their most opaque, Lower Dens are as precise and functional as a band this aesthetically constricted could hope to be. I don’t think it’s much of a coincidence that both of the band’s album covers thus far have been rendered in shades of gray: Lower Dens exist in a state of self-imposed limbo, straddling the line between minimalism, kraut, psych, industrial and indie rock. Their sophomore album, Nootropics, encompasses all of the above with surprising ease, pushing outwards when inspired but mostly tilling the nutrients from a particularly arid soil that in contemporary indie has few peers.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Record Review: Spiritualized - Sweet Heart Sweet Light


Spiritualized's music has been so good for so long that it can be easy to overlook when it has been genuinely, unequivocally great. Save for the canonized monument that is 1997's Ladies and Gentlemen We Are Floating Space, the Spiritualized catalogue tends to get lumped into a recursive mass of drones, hymnals, and orchestrations, bigger than any individual release—let alone any one song—could hope to contain. This perspective, though not entirely misplaced, undercuts the more obvious strides that leader Jason Peirce has made over the last two decades: His transition from the volatile synergy of his former band, Spacemen 3, into the minimally tranquil confines of Laser Guided Melodies; the harmonization of that same white light/white heat dichotomy with Spiritualized’s live album Fucked Up Inside; to, eventually, the mostly orchestral pageantry of Let It Come Down. Peirce’s awe in the face of life’s everyday manifestations has grown forth simultaneously with an ambition that has, in the wake of Ladies and Gentlemen, threatened to collapse everything from his songwriting (the gospel overload of Amazing Grace) to his physical well-being (documented painfully on Songs in A&E). In short, I didn’t think Peirce could possibly have it in him anymore, whether that’s mentally, physically, or psychologically. But Spiritualized’s seventh album, Sweet Heart Sweet Light, is, against all odds, the grand reconciliation of all that is powerful, frustrating, and ultimately transcendent in Jason Peirce's work.