Screen Comment Movie news, reviews and interviews | Where intelligent cinema lives. Thu, 31 Jul 2014 23:14:30 +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 JAMES FRANCO TALKS “CHILD OF GOD” Thu, 31 Jul 2014 23:10:55 +0000

Have you ever stared at a disheveled, smelly, fierce-eyed derelict, talking to himself on a street corner, and wondered what it would be like to spend around two hours in his company? Have you ever wondered if compulsive necrophiliacs are humane deep down? Do you have a knack for deciphering nearly-inaudible dialogue spoken by people missing teeth and brain cells?

Is that a yes? Thought so. Then look no further than “Child of God,” James Franco’s new drama—adapted by him and his producing partner Vince Jolivette from Cormac McCarthy’s 1973 novel of the same name—about a backwoods loner (Scott Haze) who finds himself homeless, friendless and resorting to violence and corpse-defiling to pass the time.

Franco did not collaborate with McCarthy on the adaptation but was generally loyal enough to the text—there are monologues and even chapter headings lifted verbatim—that the story remains as timeless as it was forty years ago. It’s mainly a one-man show as Haze’s character, Lester Ballard, drools, pukes, masturbates, howls at enemies both real and imagined and gets into scrapes with the sheriff (Tim Blake Nelson).

“Even though Lester’s actions are so atrocious and disgusting and wrong, they’re coming from a place that’s very human,” Franco explained at a New York City press conference Wednesday morning. “I don’t even know if Cormac agreed with me. I brought this idea up to him, that here is a guy thrust out of civil society. He wants what we all want. He wants to connect to another person, but he can’t. So he resorts to extreme means to do that.”

“None of us would condone what Lester does, if he was real,” he continued. “But within a fictional framework, he’s a monster through which hopefully we can see something of ourselves.”

Adapting is Franco’s preferred method of filmmaking, having pulled off two William Faulkner efforts (no easy feat): last year’s “As I Lay Dying” and the upcoming “The Sound and the Fury,” now in post-production. He got his feet wet in this medium while studying film at NYU, where he adapted poems by Frank Bidart and Spencer Reese into short films (the former, titled “Herbert White” and starring Michael Shannon, also centers on a necrophiliac.)

“Before film school, I had co-written original screenplays, and I just found that I wasn’t quite pushing myself as far as I could,” Franco admitted. “When you’re [adapting a book], it’s really an act of translation. So you really have to say, ‘What does [the author] mean here? Do I need that in the movie? Am I in line with him here? Do I want to be in line with him here?’”

To prepare for the role of Lester, Scott Haze——who has appeared in “As I Lay Dying”——not only studied the book ferociously, but relocated from Los Angeles to Sevier County, Tennessee (where the novel is set), and isolated himself for months. He also stuck to a torturous diet—according to the press notes—of “apples and fish,” to shed his muscular physique, and grew his hair out to nearly feral length.

“When I showed up to Scott’s hotel room [shortly before shooting], he had fake teeth, he was scraggly, he was like a creature in the dark. From that point on, I just had to put the camera in the right place.”

“This is the first collaboration James and I had on this level, where I didn’t know how much freedom I would have,” Haze recalled. “When you’re an actor, you want a director to understand the actor’s situation. James has been through the rounds, and he’s one of the greatest actors of my generation, so there was immediate trust.”

Haze and Franco have but one regret: cutting the scene that was, for Haze, the most difficult to shoot.
“There were these two dogs,” Haze began.

“Not two dogs! There were like six dogs!” Franco cut in. “But two were military dogs.”

“These dogs had just gotten back from Iraq,” Haze explained. “The dog trainer came up to me and said, ‘Do not look this one dog in the eye.’ I had a rifle and a beard that looked Taliban. It was very long and I looked crazy. And my job is to tell these dogs to get out of the cabin and wield a rifle at them. I just remember screaming at James, ‘This dog is gonna kill me!’ It was the only time I was genuinely terrified.”

Asked if he might include this and other discarded scenes in the film’s DVD extras, Franco replied, “I might just teach an editing class at AFI, where the students make a new version of the movie.”

The film opens August 1.

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Larry Clark’s latest Wed, 30 Jul 2014 13:04:36 +0000 more >]]>

The Kids generation is back and skateboarding down the red carpet.

Larry Clark’s new film “The Smell of Us,” the first he’s made outside the United States, comes nearly twenty years after his scandal-stirring “Kids.”

Just hours ago the film’s international distributor, Wild Bunch, confirmed that Larry Clark’s new film will have its world premiere at Venice Days, and this latest entry on our lineup now rounds out the program of the independent sidebar of the Venice Film Festival.

The film will screen at Venice Days on Sunday, August 31.

Written with Mathieu Landais during Clark’s “new life” in Paris, and starring Michael Pitt, Alex Martin, and Niseem Theillaud, “The Smell of Us” is, as the director puts it, “the portrait of a group of self-destructive skateboarders in Paris.”

The film revolves around a group of kids who meet up everyday at the Dôme, behind Paris’ Museum of Modern Art and in front of the Eiffel Tower. Here they can skate, play around and even have sex. Two of them are inseparable, bonding over their dysfunctional families. But a sense of ennui, the allure of easy money and online anonymity will all have a hand in smashing their universe (the content of this article was taken from a Venice Days press release)

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A MOST WANTED MAN Wed, 30 Jul 2014 06:09:27 +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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