Enter the Dragon

Marking the 40th Anniversary of the first martial arts film produced by one of the big Hollywood studios, a new Blu-ray of the classic Enter the Dragon landed last week from Warner Bros. This re-mastered release boasts an improved transfer and a few new extras from the 2007 Blu-ray, but the real star is the movie itself and the man it revolves around, Bruce Lee. Already a star in Asia, Lee finally made a splash with mainstream Western audiences with this film. Sadly, it would be his last as the actor died at age 32 before Enter the Dragon was released.

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Toby Jones in Berberian Sound Studio

Berberian Sound Studio isn’t a horror movie exactly. Like a deconstructionist chef, writer/director Peter Strickland (Katalin Varga) has taken an old favorite recipe, broken it down to its essential ingredients and then re-presented it in a fresh and unexpected way. The result is a unique psychological thriller that has an impact similar to a horror film but which slyly denies one key component: the violence.

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Emma Watson in Sofia Coppola's "The Bling Ring"
Emma Watson in Sofia Coppola’s The Bling Ring

The Bling Ring is a much better film than the snap judgments out of the Cannes film festival seemed to suggest. Here’s my own review in case you missed it at the time and here’s the official Blurbage:

In the fame-obsessed world of Los Angeles, a group of teenagers take us on a thrilling and disturbing crime-spree in the Hollywood hills. Based on true events, the group, who were fixated on the glamorous life, tracked their celebrity targets online, and stole more than 3 million in luxury goods from their homes. Their victims included Paris Hilton, Orlando Bloom, and Rachel Bilson, and the gang became known in the media as “The Bling Ring.”

In THE BLING RING, Oscar Winning filmmaker Sofia Coppola takes us inside the world of these teens, where their youthful naivete and excitement is amplified by today’s culture of celebrity and luxury brand obsession. The members of the Bling Ring introduce us to temptations that any teenager would find hard to resist. And what starts out as youthful fun spins out of control, revealing a sobering view of our modern culture.

With an ensemble cast starring Emma Watson, Leslie Mann, Taissa Farmiga, Claire Julien, Israel Broussard, Katie Chang, Georgia Rock, and Gavin Rossdale, THE BLING RING is written and directed by Sofia Coppola.

The Bling Ring opens June 14th in limited release and goes nationwide on June 21st. Check out the trailerish featurette thingy after the jump.

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Jeremy Scahill in Dirty Wars
Jeremy Scahill in Yemen filming Dirty Wars

In the new documentary Dirty Wars (LiC Review), journalist Jeremy Scahill investigates the consequences of the largely covert war we’ve been waging on terrorism since 9/11. The film moves beyond NY and LA this weekend and tonight, Scahill will be doing a Q&A following the 7:40 pm show at the Landmark Theater in West LA. I had a chance to chat with him for a few minutes last week on the eve of the film’s theatrical premiere.

Craig Kennedy: Before I have you expand on some of the ideas in Dirty Wars, I’d like to hear more about the dangers you faced traveling outside of the protection of the US military to get the story. Tell me what that was like.

Jeremy Scahill: I think the biggest fear that you have when you’re in a car is an IED, that you’re going to hit a landmine somewhere or some kind of improvised explosive device and get blown up. The threat of being kidnapped or shot by snipers is sort of omnipresent too so that you’re constantly having your head on a swivel. I think people who haven’t been in war zones have this misperception about what it’s like. There’s this idea that it’s just gunfire constantly. Actually you’ll have incredible tranquility until you don’t and then all the sudden some terrible series of things starts happening and it’s horrifying. Beyond that, there’s the psychological stress of simply driving outside of Kabul and going through these provinces where you know people have been kidnapped or ambushed and you see supply convoys that have been blown up and charred remains of trucks on the side of the road or you’ll see masked figures with guns walking across a field toward where you are and you’re praying that your car isn’t going to break down right in front of them. That sort of fear is always with you.

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Much Ado About Nothing
Alexis Denisof and Amy Acker as Benedick and Beatrice in Much Ado About Nothing
(Photo: Elsa Guillet Chapuis)

The trick to updating one of Shakespeare’s plays is making it seem fresh and relevant without losing the spirit of what made the original timeless in the first place. Joss Whedon has deftly pulled that off with his new adaptation of the Bard’s comic favorite Much Ado About Nothing.

Filmed quickly, on the sly and on the cheap during a break in post-production on The Avengers, Whedon assembled a number of faces familiar to fans of his work, updated the setting to a house in the hills near Santa Monica and had it all shot in a crisp black and white. Funny, energetic and stripped down, the result has a very different feeling from the lusty, joyful, golden-lit adaptation Kenneth Branagh filmed 20 years ago in Tuscany.

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Amy Carson and Joseph Kaiser in Kenneth Branagh's adaptation of Mozart's "The Magic Flute"
Amy Carson and Joseph Kaiser as Pamina and Tamino

Originally released in Europe beginning in 2006 in conjunction with Mozart’s 250th birthday, Kenneth Branagh’s lively and visually imaginative adaptation of the composer’s operetta The Magic Flute is just now getting an official release in the United States and it was worth the wait. Branagh enlisted Stephen Fry to redo Emanuel Schikaneder’s German libretto in English and to update the setting to WWI, but Mozart’s original music survives completely intact and is capably interpreted by The Chamber Orchestra of Europe. I don’t know how well hardcore opera snobs will take to the changes, but it strikes me as an excellent introduction for the casually curious.

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Jeremy Scahill in Dirty Wars
Jeremy Scahill (center) in Afghanistan filming Dirty Wars

The new documentary Dirty Wars skips the question of whether the War on Terror is right or wrong (a little late for that anyway) and instead concerns itself with how we’re fighting that war and whether it’s likely to have a desirable outcome. Investigative journalist/author Jeremy Scahill and his director Richard Rowley probe the edges of the conflict, digging into the invisible margins overlooked by the reporters embedded with the US military to find an increasingly covert war being waged from Afghanistan to Yemen mostly untouched by headlines back home. It’s a war veiled in secrecy where innocents are killed in drone strikes and nighttime raids and the guilty are rarely made to face the consequences. The question ultimately becomes whether we’re protecting ourselves from the threat of terrorism or if we’re merely planting the seeds of a whole new generation of America-hating jihadists.

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Cast and Crew of Inside Llewyn Davis at Cannes
Film cast – Photocall – Inside Llewyn Davis © FDC / T. Delange

The latest episode of Oscar Podcast with Sasha Stone and Ryan Adams of Awards Daily is in the can. Can you believe we’ve done 31 of these?

This week we give a little wrap up on the sights and sounds of Cannes 2013 and we all talk about how much we all liked Behind the Candelabra which debuted on HBO Sunday following its well-received premiere at Cannes. And because it’s the topic du jour, we air out some of our ambivalent feelings toward Palme d’Or winner La Vie d’Adele (Blue is the Warmest Color). For what it’s worth, our commentary was made before the author of the graphic novel on which the film is based expressed dissatisfaction with the portrayals of sex in the film.

As always you can subscribe to the podcast on iTunes. If you’re like me and don’t use iTunes, you can use this RSS link to subscribe on whatever service you prefer.

La Vie d'Adele

  • Palme d’Or: La Vie d’Adele (Blue is the Warmest Color), Abdellatif Kechiche
  • Grand Prix of the Jury: Inside Llewyn Davis, Joel Coen and Ethan Coen
  • Prix de la Mise en Scene (Best Director): Amat Escalanti, Heli
  • Prix du Scenario (Best Screenplay): Jia Zhangke, A Touch of Sin
  • Camera d’Or (Best First Feature): Ilo Ilo, directed by Anthony Chen
  • Prix du Jury (Jury Prize): Like Father Like Son, Hirokazu Kore-Eda
  • Prix d’interpretation feminine (Best Actress): Berenice Bejo, The Past
  • Prix d’interpretation masculine (Best Actor): Bruce Dern, Nebraska
  • Palme d’Or (Short Film): Safe, directed by Moon Byoung-Gon

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La Vie d'Adele

The story of my festival-going life tends to be that I miss the one film that winds up on everyone’s lips. It’s some kind of uncanny anti-radar that never fails. This time though, I managed to catch one that had everyone buzzing to the extent that people were turned away at the door of the next morning’s pick-up screening. La Vie d’Adele (Blue is the Warmest Color), Franco-Tunisian writer/director Abdellatif Kechiche’s Palme d’Or candidate, is a three hour telling of the emotional and sexual coming of age of a young woman loosely adapted from Julie Maroh’s graphic novel. I waited an hour and a half in the rain with no coat or umbrella knowing only it was from the same filmmaker behind 2007′s widely praised arthouse favorite The Secret of the Grain. The irony is that I think I’m the only one who ultimately found the earlier film a little bit disappointing. Not so La Vie d’Adele. Driven by a subtle and naturalistic star-making (and possibly Cannes award-winning) performance from its young lead Adele Exarchopoulos, this is the kind of film experience you hope to have when you come to a film festival.

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James Franco's "As I Lay Dying"

I don’t know when it happened exactly – maybe it was his non-performance hosting the Oscars – but the worm has definitely turned on the general enthusiasm for James Franco. For a while, everything he touched was a source of endless media fascination, but that’s pretty much over. No one I talked to here at Cannes going in was particularly excited about seeing his adaptation of William Faulkner’s challenging novel As I Lay Dying and those who were assigned to it weren’t looking forward to it. The thing is, it’s not Franco’s fault that every artistic doodle he’s tossed off and each creative whim he’s followed has been treated with such reverence. And his name still has cachet. Would As I Lay Dying have ever been chosen for the Un Certain Regard section at Cannes or would it ever have even been made without Franco’s name front and center? No, it wouldn’t because unfortunately it’s not very good.

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Claire Denis' "The Bastards"

There’s something rotten at the heart of Claire Denis despairing Un Certain Regard entry The Bastards, and you just know whatever it is will eventually consume the film’s lead character, but you can’t help but root for him anyway.

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Ryan Gosling in Nicolas Winding Refn's "Only God Forgives"

Only God forgives and even He will be hard pressed to give the latest from Nicolas Winding Refn a pass. Those who discovered the Danish director following the crossover success of Drive are likely to be disappointed as well. Only God Forgives shares the previous film’s star Ryan Gosling and a strong sense of style, but it doesn’t have the love story or noirish plot to give it a backbone. The result is a garish, unpleasant jellyfish of a film lacking even a sting.

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Alex van Warmerdam's "Borgman"

Is “dark whimsy” an oxymoron? I guess it is, but I can’t think of a better way to describe the bone-dry, jet black humor delivered with an impish twinkle that has marked at least the last couple of pictures from Dutch writer/director Alex van Warmerdam whose latest, Borgman, debuted yesterday morning in competition at the Cannes Film Festival’s Grand Theatre Lumiere.  He excels at setting up seemingly mundane situations, then slowly revealing how off-kilter they are while leaving it up to the audience to piece together exactly what’s going on.

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Shield of Straw

I’m going into each film here at the festival knowing as little in advance as I can possibly manage. I’m not even reading the official catalog entries so I wasn’t sure what exactly to expect from prolific Japanese director Takashi Miike. My only hope was that he’d help blow off a little mid-festival langueur and he certainly did that with Shield of Straw, a brisk crime thriller that sneaks in a uniquely Japanese cultural punch. Every year, Cannes manages to work one or two nifty genre exercises in between the Important humanist tone poems and this year Miike fit in nicely.

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Festival catalogue and blue press badge

I had hoped to take some time for regular updates about what the festival is like outside of the movies themselves, but between screenings, reviews, eating and sleep, I haven’t made the time for anything but a little bit of exploring and picture taking. So, by request, here’s a bunch of the photos I’ve snapped so far, beginning with the obligatory shot of the festival catalog and my blue press badge. For competition screenings, blue waits in line behind white badges, pink badges and pink badges with yellow dots, but in front of yellow badges. It’s actually a pretty funny hierarchy that a lot of people bitch and complain about, but my attitude the whole week has been: “It ain’t Chinatown, Jake. It’s friggin’ Cannes so quit your bitching.” I might be singing a different tune if I’d had a yellow badge however…

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Oscar Isaac in Joel and Ethan Coen's "Inside Llewyn Davis"

A cat named Ulysses is a key figure in Inside Llewyn Davis and that reference is not the only thing that calls to mind an earlier film from Joel and Ethan Coen. The emphasis on music also very much put me in the mind of their O Brother Where Art Thou? And yet, tonally, the brothers’ latest film feels completely different. O Brother is often silly, but ultimately redemptive and hopeful whereas Inside Llewyn Davis is kind of sad and a little bit haunting despite being ripe with the expected off kilter humor. It’s a beautiful, melancholy rumination on the capricious nature of success.

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Asghar Farhadi's "The Past"

You see a lot of movies and most of them are pretty ordinary. Once in a while you see one slightly above average and it’s a cause for celebration. On rare occasions you see something truly outstanding and you’re reminded why you love cinema in the first place. It’s the nourishment that keeps you going through the day-to-day ordinary. That happened this morning at Cannes with the debut of Asghar Farhadi’s The Past – all the more remarkable because the film comes with such high expectations following the Iranian filmmaker’s Foreign Language Oscar-winning A Separation. If anything, Farhadi has topped himself. The Past is a richly rewarding human drama of seemingly infinite depth and nuance.

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Sofia Coppola's "The Bling Ring"

The Bling Ring which premiered this afternoon in the Un Certain Regard section of the Cannes Film Festival is, contrary to the small sampling of negative early twitter buzz I happened across, another winner from Sofia Coppola. Less contemplative than her glacially paced (but wonderful) previous film Somewhere, Bling returns in a way to some of the territory the writer/director examined with the under-appreciated Marie Antoinette – a culture of excess gone horribly wrong. In this case, she follows the true life exploits of a pack of little Queen of France wannabes for whom breaking and entering the homes of celebrities is a perfectly reasonable means to an end which they think they unquestionably deserve.

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The Great Gatsby

Believe me, I didn’t fly all the way to Cannes just to see The Great Gatsby which already opened in the States last Friday. I was actually going to skip it and instead pour as much of my energy as possible into films that haven’t been seen yet, but I hadn’t had time to see it before I left and, as the first press screening of my first Cannes Film Festival, it seemed like a good opportunity to get my feet wet while figuring out the ins and outs of navigating this crazy place. Unfortunately, Gatsby is pretty much a disaster from the opening frames – it’s not even an interesting misfire – and I was ready to bolt within the first 15 or 20 minutes. I just kept thinking of all the dozens of different things I could be doing instead and they all sounded more appealing than this nice looking but dull and gutless stroll through the pages of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s classic novel. Continued »

Fruitvale Station

One of the big successes at Sundance this year was Fruitvale which was snapped up by The Weinstein Company, renamed Fruitvale Station and instantly became “the Sundance film that’s going to cross over and make an Oscar run.” Following a similar trajectory to recent films like Precious and Beasts of the Southern Wild, it has also parlayed its success to a slot at Cannes where it will doubtless ride the wave to bigger and better things to come. The lead character is even named Oscar! Convenient! Call me a cynic, but I tend to be instantly skeptical of these heavily buzzed sensations. They rarely live up to the advanced hype, but Fruitvale Station is a most welcome exception to the rule. It’s the real deal and not the last time we’ll here from star-in-the-making Michael B. Johnson.

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Amat Escalante's "Heli"

Barcelona-born, Mexico City-raised Amat Escalante is three for three with Cannes. His first two films, Sangre (2005) and Los Bastardos (2008) both played in the Un Certain Regard category and this year he’s graduated to the main competition with Heli, a confidently mounted but mostly unpleasant exercise in human cruelty.

I didn’t see Sangre, but Los Bastardos was interesting and mysterious enough from the start to hold your attention while it built to a shockingly and (for me) unexpectedly violent conclusion. In it, Escalante channeled a certain quiet rage as he explored the illegal immigrant experience in the United States. It was awkward at times and heavy-handed, but it made its point and it made it with flair. There is little mysterious or unexpected about Heli on the other hand. It begins with a man dressed only in his underwear being hung from a bridge overpass so you know right away unpleasant things are in store.  There are no surprises, there is only the inevitable.

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The Official Screening Guide for Cannes dropped today, glowing tantalizingly before me like the golden idol at the start of Raiders of the Lost Ark. There were no spiders or spears getting here, nor was I betrayed by the guy who would one day play Doctor Octopus, but there were definitely a series of hurdles and they’ve all been overcome. All of the important technical details like press passes and plane tickets and passports are nailed down. Even so, it’s still a little hard to believe since this adventure was little more than a vague fantasy just two months ago. I didn’t start the year thinking this was going to happen, yet here we are. As of Monday or Tuesday, I’ll be writing to you from France.

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A Simple Plan (1998) Directed by Sam Raimi.
Bridget Fonda as Sarah and Bill Paxton as Hank.

Sarah: You gotta remember how people see you. You’re just a normal guy. A nice sweet normal guy.
Hank: They’re gonna know!
Sarah: No they won’t! Nobody would ever believe that you’d be capable of doing what you’ve done.

The Parallax View (1974) Directed by Alan J. Pakula.
Hume Cronyn as Bill Rintels and Warren Beatty as Joe Frady

Bill: You’re supposed to be dead. Goddamnit. You could’ve called me.
Joe: I was scared shitless they’d think I was still alive.
Bill: You mean nobody knows?
Joe: Nobody but you. Hey Bill, what’s that?
Bill: Tomorrow’s lead. I’m demanding a reopening of the Carroll investigation. (pulls out a phonebook)
Joe: Who’re you calling?
Bill: The police. The FBI. The CIA. Somebody.
Joe: Bill… don’t do it.
Bill: You suggesting they’re involved?
Joe: Nope.
Bill: Or that they covered up on their original investigation?
Joe: Well, there is a natural bureaucratic tendency to cover up mistakes, but beyond that I got no reason to think any governmental agency was in on it… or if they were that they knew that they were in on it. If you want to use the FBI or the CIA, you don’t have to infiltrate the whole agency to do it. At first I thought these killings were related only to the Carroll assassination. It’s much bigger than that. Whoever’s behind this is in the business of recruiting assassins.
Bill: Recruiting assassins.
Joe: I think I got some of their entrance exams. If I’m right, I’m gonna enlist. If you print anything now, I’ll be exposed.
Bill: You’re telling me that you alone can uncover what all these agencies couldn’t?
Joe: Maybe. I’m just asking you not to print anything or talk about this ’til I get more specific evidence. If you do, you’ll just blow my chance to find out who’s behind it.
Bill: What do you expect me to print?
Joe: My obituary. I want to predate a will, I want to name you as executor, something informal. I’d like you to go out to my motel, pick up my things and give them to the Salvation Army or whatever, but make a big show out of it. I’m dead, Bill… and I just want to stay that way for awhile.

Back to School (1986) Directed by Alan Metter
Timothy Stack as Trendy Man and Rodney Dangerfield as Thornton Melon

Trendy Man: Mr. Melon! Your wife was just showing us her Klimt.
Melon: You too, huh? She’s showin’ it to everybody.
Trendy Man: Well, she’s very proud of it.
Melon: I’m proud of mine too. I don’t go waving it around at parties, though.

Pierce Brosnan and Trine Dyrholm in Susanne Bier's "Love is All You Need"

It’s a testament I think to the modest charms of Susanne Bier’s new romance Love is All You Need that I went into it feeling cranky and not at all in the mood for a love story, but came out feeling won over. I suppose I should’ve given Bier, better known for darker and more dramatic subjects, the benefit of a doubt that she’d bring something different to the table. Or maybe it’s all Pierce Brosnan who happens to be kind of great as an embittered widower who unexpectedly finds love.

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Olivier Assayas' "Something in the Air"

Olivier Assayas’ Something in the Air (French title Apres Mai) is a wistful, but wholly unsentimental look back at that high school age when you’re smart enough to know the world is falling apart and still naive enough to think you can do something about it. It’s 1971 near Paris and a teacher is quoting Pascal to his class: “Between us and heaven or hell there is only life, which is the frailest thing in the world.” One of the students, Gilles, scratches an anarchy symbol into his desktop. He has no idea yet how fragile life can be. He’s at the very beginning of it, but he isn’t yet sure what he wants to do with it. Assayas is remembering the fear of that uncertainty, but also embracing the freedom.

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Tiny Furniture (2010) Written and directed by Lena Dunham. Lena Dunham as Aura and David Call as Keith

Keith: So, how’re… how’re things?
Aura: Ummm… I’m really tired. I took three Klonopin and woke up next to a spoonful of peanut butter.





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All material copyright 2007-2012 by Craig Kennedy unless otherwise stated