Four More Festival Reviews

I took a break from the festival today to catch up with reviews. Here’s a quick rundown:

I’m Not There

Todd Haynes’s Dylan picture only truly takes off when a Dylan song is playing, and that should tell you something. Cate Blanchett is great fun, but I liked her even better in tonight’s Elizabeth: The Golden Age. More on that soon — and I’ve got video of the press conference with Haynes, too.

Paranoid Park
I saw this strictly out of professional curiosity, and Gus van Sant did not disappoint: yet another artful bore.

The Man From London
Everybody seems to be digging out their favorite “on drugs” lines for this year’s NYFF, so here goes: The Third Man on Ambien.

Secret Sunshine

Once again, my festival favorite (at least so far) comes from South Korea. No distributor yet, but you can get Lee Chang-dong’s Oasis and Peppermint Candy on DVD.

I’m Not There. Todd Haynes, 2007. ***
Paranoid Park. Gus van Sant, 2007. *
The Man From London. Béla Tarr, 2007. ***
Milyang. Lee Chang-dong, 2007. *****

This Is England

After transforming the bucolic English countryside into a site of horror with the nasty revenge tale Dead Man’s Shoes, Shane Meadows turns to Maggie Thatcher’s England with a skinhead coming-of-age story. This is England starts out as well-acted and superbly designed mid-eighties time-capsule but degenerates to a formulaic conclusion that cheapens everything that went before.

This Is England
opens next Friday. Read the rest of my review at About.com.

This Is England. Shane Meadows, 2006. ***

Watch the trailer:


Rocket Science

The first feature film by the director of Spellbound puts a refreshing spin on the coming-of-age formula, subverting what we expect from a story about a stuttering high school kid (Reece Thompson) who, with a little prodding by an older girl (Anna Kendrick), decides to join the debate team and win the coveted New Jersey state championships. Watch About.com for Marcy‘s review by the time the movie opens on August 10.

Rocket Science. Jeffrey Blitz, 2007. ****

The trailer:

Colma: The Musical

The first surprise is that Colma: The Musical plays it straight. You might imagine a musical about teenagers in a suburb south of San Francisco in which the majority of the population is dead to be an ironic tongue-in-cheek affair, using bursting-into-song conventions to poke fun at metastasizing franchise culture — Mallrats with a groove. (“Shakey’s is now iHop!” the news announces during the opening number.) But Colma doesn’t deflate or abuse the conventions of the musical; it relies on them to tell three heartbreakingly honest tales about growing up.

Head over to About.com for the rest of my review.

Colma: The Musical. Richard Wong, 2006. ****

The trailer:

Battle Royale

battleroyal.jpg

I suppose it’s not considered in particularly good taste to watch school children killing each other off for entertainment, but the dexterity with which director Kinji Fukasaku milks the “murderous game” concept for drama and satire is remarkable.

The setup could be described as Mean Girls with machine guns crossed with Lord of the Flies by the way of the Schwarzenegger trash classic Running Man: in future Japan, a class of forty students is selected to fight to the death on a secluded island. Everybody is given a random weapon and kept under control with exploding necklaces. Like Highlander, there can be only one survivor. Multi-talented Takeshi Kitano combines his game show host and actor personalities in his role as the former teacher who cruelly oversees the fight.

Once the “game” is established, Battle Royale excels in using overly familiar high school scenarios and reimagining them with deadly weapons. Here are the popular girls, for whom the cut-throat competition to be the #1 princess just got a lot nastier. Here are the geeks who stick together and hatch a plan, the lovebirds who try to find their own way out, the freshly transfered students hiding secrets, the boys with the tragic crush on the wrong girl.

We get to know a good many of the forty quickly diminishing students, and most of them could have jumped right out of a sitcom — but the stakes here are cranked up so high that what usually would have been an ordinary schoolyard confrontation becomes a matter of life and bloody death. Even more so than last year’s Brick, Battle Royale is terrifically engaging because it literalizes what everybody already knows: high school is murder.

Batoru rowaiaru. Kinji Fukasaku, 2000. ****

The trailer: