Screen Comment Movie news, reviews and interviews | Where intelligent cinema lives. Fri, 25 Jul 2014 19:09:27 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Screen Comment’s Ali Naderzad comments not your average movie soundtracks. Screen Comment clean Screen Comment (Screen Comment) Movie Tracks! Screen Comment TV-G AN UNWANTED MAN Fri, 25 Jul 2014 19:09:27 +0000

In “An Unwanted Man” Philip Seymour Hoffman is Gunther Bachmann, the leader of a secret team working for the German government fighting the war against terror from Hamburg. The film follows a plan to bring down a doctor (Homayoun Ershadi, who was seen notably in Abbas Kiarostami’s “Taste of Cherry” in 1987) suspected of financing terrorism and Al-Qaeda.

Bachmann works with a tight-knit posse of spies, the group’s intent being to protect as many people as possible in addition to competing with rival government teams and of course the Americans (Robin Wright is on the scene, playing a State Department official) who have their own thoughts on how the tail and ensuing arrest should be handled.

When a Muslim-Chechen man by the name of Issa Karpov (Grigoriy Dobrygin) is found to have entered illegally into Germany to claim millions in inheritance, Bachmann and his team launch an inquiry. The idea? To make Karpov their ticket to taking down the big fish, ie., the doctor.

Dutch director Anton Corbijn’s legacy rests squarely on a body of work making music videos (and he’s very good at that). But Corbijn’s evolved as a filmmaker, too: he’s lost that annoying grainy esthetic and, aside from a very slow first twenty minutes has managed to make an edgy and fascinating thriller and Hoffman’s last role before dying of a drug overdose in New York this past February.

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Mood Indigo Wed, 16 Jul 2014 05:49:07 +0000

This is the surreal and poetic story of a young idealistic and inventive man, Colin, who meets Chloe, a young woman who could be the incarnation of a blues piece by Duke Ellington. Their idyllic marriage turns to bitterness when Chloe falls ill due to a water lily that’s growing in her lung. To pay for his care in a fantasyland Paris, Colin must work under increasingly absurd conditions while all around them their apartment deteriorates and their group of friends, including the talented Nicolas and Sartre fanatic Chick disintegrate.

Everything is in here in this synopsis that’s as intriguing as it is vast. From a colored visual poem the film turns slowly to depression in black and white throughout a scenario based on the novel by Boris Vian (“L’écume des jours”) that’s dissected and tweaked and then sublimated by a Michel Gondry whom we had not seen as inventive and fanatical of machinery of all kinds ever since his music video days (for the singer Björk, among others) and his film “the Science of Sleep.”

The sets of “Mood Indigo” are breathtaking, the frame-by-frame animations and projections replacing certain elements, one is overwhelmed with images, ideas, words and a fear of blinking lest we miss a single visual spark.

Along this joyful mess in which an antique dealer would not find his way, the actors give the impression of playing hopscotch and doing street-theater. They seem to have fun, improvise, bounce and discover along with the audience this spooky world which constantly changes as the environment and the mood are evolving.

Boris Vian’s novel and Michel Gondry were made ​​to meet, because the result is simply astounding.

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Ida Sat, 12 Jul 2014 12:33:33 +0000

Watching Pawel Pawlikowski’s drama “Ida,” is to immerse yourself in a film of great silences. Set in the grim landscape of postwar-Poland “Ida” follows Anna, a young Catholic nun (newcomer Agata Trzebuchowska) as she prepares to profess her vows in the convent she’s lived in since childhood. Before she can take this important step, the convent’s Mother Superior insists that she pay a visit to her only living relative, her aunt Wanda (Agata Kulesza). Obeying reluctantly, Anna’s appearance in Wanda’s life unmoors not only the older woman but Anna herself, who learns that her real name is Ida, and that her Jewish parents were murdered during World War II.

The film provides a beautifully-constructed look at how the past can simultaneously haunt and inform the present. It is an outstanding reflection on the violence that destroyed a country and a whole swath of its people, and it asks the important question: how do you move forward when you no longer know who you are?

Pawlikowski revels in these questions, and the movie’s cinematography reflects this interest. As Ida and Wanda journey through the countryside to their family’s ancestral home to find the place where Ida’s parents are buried, Pawlikowski takes us through a landscape so bleak as to be beautiful. Poland’s forests, which Ida observes in contemplative silence from the car window, echo the enforced silence of convent life, to which Ida ostensibly aspires. But Wanda, brooding and melancholy in the driver’s seat, her work as a harsh Communist party member never far from the edges of her character, seems as lost and defeated as the Poland that had sprung up from the wreckage of World War II. The ruins of her life–her lonely apartment, her bleak job, and her crushing loneliness–is thrown in sharp contrast to the orderly purpose of Ida’s life, which is evident from the film’s opening minutes.

The film’s pressing questions, of the nature of identity and the importance of the past as an object that informs the future, unfold so thoughtfully, with such grace and purpose, that it is impossible not to be moved by Pawlikowski’s achievement. Agata Trzebuchowska brings particular elegance to the role of Anna/Ida. She weighs her character’s uncertain commitments to church and religion alongside her determination to uncover her family’s past, and she does this so well that she nearly steals the film out from under Agata Kulesza. “Ida” is an uncompromisingly beautiful picture that deserves to be watched again and again.

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Jersey Boys Tue, 01 Jul 2014 19:20:07 +0000

Bravo, Clint Eastwood! With “Jersey Boys,” the director moves away from his sometimes schlocky and often manipulative movies such as “Invictus,” “Gran Torino,” or “Hereafter,” and gives us a biopic as moving as it is entertaining. Like the Broadway musical, it’s a story of greed, success, fall and redemption, none of it unpleasant as the protagonists are young, gifted, and for the most part naïve.

In a first for movies reprising musicals, “Jersey Boys” casts the likable, gifted original Broadway actors instead of replacing them as is customary with silver screen stars not always comfortable or believable in song-and-dance numbers (think Meryl Streep in “Mamma Mia.”)

The boys in question are those who formed the wildly successful pop group, the Four Seasons. They start out as errands boys on the edge of the Jersey Mob, their only ambition being to serve and then emulate the higher ups in the hierarchy, mainly the Gyp (Christopher Walken who as always completely steals any scene he’s in).

What sets them on a different road is the charismatic presence of Frankie Castelluccio (John Lloyd Young), he of the instantly recognizable sweet falsetto, who will become famous as Frankie Valli, the lead singer—they weren’t called “front man” back then—of the group and then solo artist.

After the usual travails of sending out demos that no one in the record business listens to, trying to find sponsors, doing poorly paid gigs in smoke-filled third-rate venues, the group, going through a variety of names, finally breaks through and races all the way to the top. A few successful years follow marred by internecine fights, power plays and the financial shenanigans of member Tommy DeVito (Vincent Piazza) that finally break up the group. Frankie Valli strides out on his own, along with his song-writer, co-singer Bob Gaudio (Erich Bergen).

“Jersey Boys” could have been be a rehash of a hundred similar stories, but in Eastwood’s able hands, it is pure delight from start to finish, with excellent cinematography and the well-known tunes older viewers can hum to. I never stopped smiling.

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The Rover Fri, 20 Jun 2014 18:30:19 +0000

In scandal-prone filmdom, not the least is the lackluster career of a great actor, Guy Pearce, though his choice of unclassifiable turns (“Memento,” “Two Brothers,” etc.) may be a factor.

Case in point, the strange and strangely moving “The Rover,” where in a desolate post-apocalyptic wasteland, his character, Eric, maybe a former soldier of fortune, farmer or adventurer, and surely a lonely soul, embarks on a single-minded quest: reclaiming the car that a gang of thugs have appropriated (the scene where the car is stolen is jaw-droppingly original). Not till the end do we find out the completely unexpected reason he has for not giving up.

The Rover” – Official movie site

As happens in road movies, he comes across a number of weird characters but then he lives in weird times. Rey, the companion he meets and then is saddled with is played by Robert Pattinson who remains as bland as a would-be simple-minded Lennie “Of Mice and Men” character as he was as vampire or billionaire currency investor.

Despite minimalist scenery consisting of dust clouds, thorns spinning in the wind and a linear progression featuring mainly an endless spree of shootouts, not always explained, the film remains engaging throughout. Guy Pearce carries the story, unclear as it is, his stoicism often at odds with compassionate moments—not least toward his less-gifted buddy—and bursts of violence. He can go from tears to murderous rage while keeping his features almost completely still. Quite a feat but then, as I said, he is a tremendous actor.

"The Rover"

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Kim Rocco Shields Tue, 17 Jun 2014 15:19:16 +0000

For some time I’ve been highlighting the great and underrated work of female directors in cinema. Kim Rocco Shields, who I recently got a chance to sit and talk to, is not just a female director: she’s a director, pure and simple, and for my money Rocco is capable of pushing the envelope further than many male directors.

Proof of this is her recent short film “Love is All You Need,” which (at present) has not only garnered over thirty million views on the internet but has won awards in six different film festivals as well as sparked some nationwide debate (see stills from the article below)

The film shows the evils of bullying from a unique perspective that would make even Rod Serling proud. A young girl in a homosexual world is chastised for seeking a heterosexual relationship. Of course what makes the story, also written by Shields, different is not just the switching of what the world perceives as normal, but the genders of the characters.

Find out more about Kim Rocco Shields here (site) 

Watching a little girl being ridiculed abused and even punched does underline the point of the film with a black marker and, without giving her ending away, Shields told me, “it was the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do.” Shields loves challenges, however, as is obvious by not only her desire to bring a relevant social issue to the forefront by exploiting our culture’s sexual prejudices, but by doing it with a cast made up predominantly of children.

And if the old adage of children being difficult to work with is true, you sure wouldn’t know it from Shields’s film, as the real and natural performances she elicits from her pint-size cast make them not just great child actors but great actors, period. “I love children and hope to make more films with them. It’s a challenge and I love that,” Shields told me. Thankfully, she may get her chance, as her short has made such an impact as an anti-bullying tool in scholastic venues, is it now being developed into a feature which she believes will bring awareness and help to the problem and victims.

You can watch Shields’s “Love is all you need” short film on Youtube here

Always wanting to direct, L.A. native Shields took a great path on her quest to the proverbial bullhorn. Having studied film theory in school, she became an editor where she quickly learned the importance of telling stories visually. While sharpening those skills on various industrials, videos and commercials she realized firsthand experience was the best teacher. “I noticed on a film set the person who sits closest to the director is the script supervisor so I thought if I had that job I could learn the most.”

She went on to script-supervise for such directors as J.J. Abrams and Gore Verbinski. With this knowledge and her own talent, intelligence and determination, she formed WingSpan Pictures where she directed and produced several shorts and features. “I look at film as a chance to make art, not money” says Shields whose esthetic style of filmmaking gives her a classic edge in a modern era.

Although she’s directed comedy for television, her films seem to be more of her dramatic outlet. “I like to tell stories that create talk because we can’t learn anything by not talking.” Her work certainly proves she’s sincere in her desires as she’s tackled various issues including discrimination, medical concerns and the aforementioned bullying debate via alternate lifestyles. Of course, comedy or drama, her content has a message and the success of her courage in sending those messages has paved the way for her new company, Genius Pictures, a fully-staffed studio in Burbank, Calif., where she will continue to develop the kind of cinematic art she believes will both entertain and make a difference.

Note to festival programmers: don’t box up Shields’s films in the ‘Female Films’ category.

(below, some stills from “Love is all you need”)

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BIRD PEOPLE Thu, 12 Jun 2014 05:40:55 +0000

How alienated does our work/family/play/social-media environment make us? What if we took the time to measure this alienation, what if we looked, really looked at what’s around us, what if we grew wings and flew high above it all, taking stock, seeing our lives from a distance with an uncritical but lucid eye?

Such is the premise of Pascale Ferran’s lovely and thoughtful “Bird People,” shown in the Un Certain Regard section at the recent Cannes Festival. Through vignettes on several lonely people whose paths cross–or don’t—in a bland Hilton hotel near Paris’s Charles de Gaulle airport, through our daily grind and mindless to-ing and fro-ing through lives and careers that have long lost all meaning, the French auteur almost wordlessly poses these questions. Audrey (Anaïs Demoustier) is a chambermaid/university student who spends her days emptying trash cans, making beds and replacing the small bottles of shampoos or body lotions in guests’ bathrooms.

Only occasionally does she take time off from these automatic tasks for a quick smoke or a look at the view from the windows, mainly planes taking off or landing. Gary Newman (Josh Charles), a corporate man on his way to Dubai, comes to the realization that he’s done–no more jetting around the world, no more being husband and father, no more anything. Life must start anew, right now. Other characters cross those vast spaces, those hotel lobbies, those airport gates, in the rumble of their rolling suitcases, eyes never meeting, thoughts, such as our fragmented world allows, never meshing—linked, briefly, by a sparrow who flies under those high ceilings, a sparrow who may be one of the protagonists, reincarnated in a totally free, totally curious and interested living, breathing, aware little being.

“Bird People” is a highly original work by Pascale Ferran who had previously directed “Lady Chatterley” with an equally masterful and lyrical, albeit different, tone. Coming out of the theater after this almost out-of-body experience, viewers are guaranteed to look at streets, cars, trees, and perhaps even themselves with a different eye, at least temporarily.

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THE LOVE PUNCH | In case you missed it Sat, 07 Jun 2014 11:56:50 +0000

There are two types of British indie movies. Some are touched with deep or crazy ideas too creative for mainstream release. Others give middle-aged British stars something to do in between “Harry Potter” movies.

Emma Thompson and Pierce Brosnan are the middle-age British stars of record in Jeff Hopkins’s romantic comedy, “The Love Punch.” They play a divorced English couple driven to both revenge and the south of France after their life savings are stolen. Whether or not that idea sounds crazy, the execution is a little lazy. It’s the sort of film that actually plays the Clash version of “I Fought the Law” when the characters are in the process of committing a crime.

The crime in question is a diamond heist. Actually, it becomes a diamond heist and a kidnapping plot. In case that’s not enough jail time for your golden years, why not add some neighbors (Tuppence Middleton and Timothy Spall) who bring a gun to the party? Our foursome of late-life felons crashes the wedding of a corporate raider and his trophy fiancée. Their target is to steal and sell a diamond necklace to make up for their lost pensions.

The silliness of the plot (and some of the details – like Britons performing over-the-top Texas twangs) can be forgiven. “The Love Punch”takes inspiration from an honorable line of silly films, starting with screwball comedies of the thirties and running through “The Pink Panther.”

That would make Thompson Katherine Hepburn and turn Brosnan into Cary Grant (an actor once considered a model for James Bond, come to think of it). The pair show off good chemistry, and they lift the generally spotty material at times.

Hopkins is making a living on these sorts of movies. His last film, 2008’s “Last chance Harvey,” was an unfashionably understated romantic drama starring Thompson and Dustin Hoffman. I admire the instincts – an attraction to older styles and stars, the desire to do something simple. Just when it seems like unadventurous filmmaking, he does something visually that I like, such as using the full width of the screen for a simple shot on a patio.

Still, there are not enough of these nice touches here to make “The Love Punch” work overall. That’s the real crime.


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FRENCH CINEMA TAKES OVER NYC’S OUTDOORS Fri, 06 Jun 2014 14:48:56 +0000

You can flashmob to Pharrell ‘til you’re blue in the face, but, in terms of things we do en masse nothing gets people gathering ‘round in the soothing glow of community like outdoors movie night. Even if it’s a subtitled movie.

That seems to be the wager made by the Cultural Services of the French Embassy in New York, the city’s Parks Department and FACE foundation in presenting FILMS ON THE GREEN, a sensibly-curated selection of French films, some from recent times and others less so.

The idea (the program was launched six years ago), according to Antonin Baudry of the French Embassy with whom I spoke to for this article (Baudry is the Embassy’s cultural counselor), is to present French-made cinema to a mixed audience made up of anything from accomplished cinephiles to wet-behind-the-ear French-curious cats, and everything in between.

A theme meant to hold the selection together is devised every year, Baudry told me, and a short-list of films slowly comes into being after much back-and-forth conversations between the audiovisual department of the French Embassy, Parks and Recreation and the FACE people. There are challenges to this, however: the films have to appeal to a broad audience and nudity is verboten.

Past themes of the French festival have included “love story,” “a summer vacation,” “musicals,” and “literary adaptations.” If all this sounds mainstream and unchallenging, that’s because it is. But anyone who knows French cinema will have high expectations, anyway. Directors and producers from across the pond bear with a mysterious but wonderful combination of gravitas, geniality and randomness upon their craft, all features which define partly the French ethos of filmmaking. That’s what makes it so unpredictable and such an enriching experience.


The FILMS ON THE GREEN selection is carefully massaged, worked over and scrutinized all throughout the year (as the French would not say, “c’est un processus »). The films one curates should not vex, understandably. A good outdoorsy selection is supposed to be about community, friendship, discovery and entertainment—and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that (people who’d rather go see Brakhage at Film Forum are welcome to do so. They’ll get a headache, but they’ll do so in a generally air-conditioned room).

Baudry, all charm and intelligence, and the audiovisual department, work in close collaboration with his colleagues at Parks and FACE. A longtime fan of cinema he wrote his Master’s thesis about the cinema from Hong Kong. He took over as the Cultural Counselor of the French Embassy three years ago.

This year’s program, which launched on May 30th and will go until September 4th, is shown under the banner of MASCULIN/MASCULIN, the mysteriously doubled-up adjective of the title which leaves much to interpretation is a reference to Jean-Luc Godard’s 1966 “Masculin Féminin.” The films which were chosen for this year’s program hail from many different genres, from film noir to comedies and romance.

Not one to be very subtle, I fell right into the trap, musing out loud with Baudry that he and his counterparts at Parks and FACE must’ve intended to pay tribute to virile men, macho fellows who are set in their ways and call women “dames” and “broads” (if they were American). At least, that was my owninterpretation of MASCULIN/MASCULIN.

Baudry rushed to correct me, saying that in fact the theme is more nuanced, their aim being to show man in all his varied accoutrements. But indulge me, would you?

Manly man Lino Ventura

Manly man Lino Ventura

Lino Ventura, an actor who is defined by his gruff virility, alternated throughout his career between playing world-weary police detectives and veteran gangsters. He appears in 1963’s “Les Tontons flingueurs” (“Monsieur Gangster,” in the English; directed by Claude Lautner) which will be shown tonight.

Ventura, all scowl and gruffness, is the paradigm of male virility (he was a professional fighter before heeding the call of Saint Genesius). Could Ventura instill some gravitas in downtown New York’s stroller-pushing metrosexual establishment? He belongs to a hard past in which men sharpened their chainsaws and drove clunky Citroens that were devoid of power-steering.

Ventura, even though he’s part Italian, is the epitome of snobbism à la française, apparently. When he was offered a part in “Apocalypse Now,” “Encounters of the third kind” and William Friedkin’s “Wages of Fear,” he simply said, “non.”

1979’s ironic and delightfully vulgar “Buffet froid” was directed by Bertrand Blier, a director and actor who won an Academy Awards for Best Foreign film for his “Get out your handkerchiefs” (Blier appeared alongside Ventura in “Les tontons flingueurs”).

“Buffet froid,” a tremendous choice for this year’s program, can be unnverving at times. Blier rolls out a cold but funny tragicomedy about men out of the reassuring confines of an apartment in a modern residential tower.

Carole Bouquet, who held court at the Cannes Festival last month as part of this year’s jury, plays death itself (herself?). “Buffet” is a scient choice right out of the French canon (Blier’s other film “Les Valseuses” was listed as part of our One Hundred Years of Must-See Movies list (click here to access our list)


In comparing French to American cinema Baudry surmised that France’s seventh art is not as constrained by dogmas, the resulting films being less formatted. And he’s right. In fact, everything is now singularly different between here and France. The outlook is different and the films are better-suited to an adult and intelligent audience whereas studios have turned their focus entirely to the young adult set. But then, the bottom lines and financial pressures are not the same and American filmmaking industry as a whole depends on the continued solvency of the big studios.

Whereas independent cinema stateside has all but foundered and has been relegated to living once again in the shadow of the big studios, there’s been an effervescence of new works and new filmmakers riding high on European financing.

Every year France’s public film office, le CNC (Centre national de la Cinématographie) actually funds a number of foreign productions. “61 films last year,” Baudry told me.

Other films in this year’s program include “The Women on the sixth floor,” starring the incomparable Fabrice Luchini. An accomplished screen and theater actor, Luchini made soaring entertainment out of reading texts by the French essayist Philippe Murray and Barthes on stage. Most, if not all, shows are sold out.

In “Women” Luchini plays Jean-Louis, a bourgeois whiling the days of a comfortable middle class existence away until he has an encounter with someone who’ll reveal a new world to him (showing on June 20th in Tompkins Square Park).

Baudry did not give me any anecdotes, those neat yarns I normally like to end interviews with, but he did mention that people come to him after the screenings and tell him that they’ve discovered French cinema thanks to FILMS ON THE GREEN, which he found gratifying.

In a city where high culture is not scarce and film festivals abound (according to Richard Pena of the New York Film Festival, there were sixty-three film festivals, just in New York, at one point: if films about Provence are your shtick, there was a festival for that) FILMS ON THE GREEN distinguishes itself not only because of its energetic and varied selection but also because it doesn’t try to cater to anyone or sell a popular product. Showing subtitled films in the park is a tough sell, even though the movies are free. Baudry and the people at Parks and Recreation and FACE have raised the bar high; it’ll be up to the people to show up (and they do).

Other films at this year’s FILMS ON THE GREEN include “La Haine” (June 27, Tompkins Square Park), “The Moustache” (July 11, Riverside Park, Pier 1), “La Grande Illusion” (July 18, Riverside Park), Le Magnifique (July 25, Transmitter Park), “2 Autumns, 3 Winters” (August 1, Transmitter Park), with a nice finish at my alma mater Columbia University on September 4th with “The French Minister” starring Thierry Lhermitte and the charming Raphaël Personnaz.

Follow Ali Naderzad on Twitter @alinaderzad

More information about FILMS ON THE GREEN here




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PREVIEW | A coffee in Berlin Thu, 05 Jun 2014 03:02:27 +0000

German director Jan Ole Gerster’s droll and energetic feature debut “A Coffee in Berlin” narrates a day in the life of Niko, a twentysomething college dropout who’s able to live without a care in the world, apparently.

Niko (played by a Tom Schilling who bears a strange resemblance to James McAvoy) lives for the moment as he breezes through the streets of Berlin, observing everyone around him with an insatiable curiosity and oblivious to his growing status as an outsider.

Then on one fateful day, through a series of absurdly-amusing encounters, everything changes: his girlfriend rebuffs him, his father cuts off his allowance and a strange psychiatrist dubiously confirms his emotionally imbalanced state.

Meanwhile, a former classmate insists she bears no hard feelings toward him for his grade-school tauntsbut it becomes increasingly clear that she has some unfinished business with him. Unable to ignore the consequences of his passivity any longer, Niko finally concludes that he has to engage with life.

Ole Gerster is a craftsman of pitch-perfect comedic timing, so laughter is pretty much assured throughout this charming tale.

Shot in black and white and enriched with a snappy jazz soundtrack, this slacker dramedy is a love letter to Berlin and the Generation Y experience.

June 13th limited release

FIND OUT more by visiting the film’s site

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