The Skin I Live In (La Piel Que Habito) (Spain)
Directed by Pedro Almodovar
Starring Antonio Banderas, Elena Anaya, Marisa Paredes

Adapted from a novel Tarantula by Thierry Jonquet, Pedro Almodovar’s latest reunites him with Antonio Banderas who plays a scientist perfecting an artificial skin using a woman he keeps prisoner in his home as a guinea pig.

Stephanie Zacharek, Movieline: “I’ve long been waiting for [Almodovar] to deliver more of the stylish, twisted pleasures of his earlier movies. The Skin I Live In isn’t quite as el sicko as I’d hoped it would be, but the depraved gleam in its eye its nonetheless irresistible… The plot….is a little messy, with lots of twists, turns and coincidental family secrets. And in stretches, it relies a little too much on characters’ expository dialogue. But when it comes to the movie’s visuals, Almodóvar — working, as he often has in the past, with cinematographer José Luis Alcaine — is in his element. The picture is rendered in crisp, flower-garden colors, and there are some glorious shots, particularly at the beginning, that render Vera’s body as if it were a glorious desert landscape, all sand-toned hills and valleys.”

Peter Bradshaw, Guardian: ” For those who would like Almodóvar to do something radical – and this was rather how this movie had been misleadingly billed here in Cannes – then The Skin I Live In might try the patience. But I can only say that it kept me gripped from first to last. The sheer muscular confidence of Almodóvar’s film-making language gives it force, and co-exists with a dancer’s elegance and grace. Without this, the story could look strained and farcical. Instead, its bizarre passions are compelling. Almodóvar brings something hypnotic to the surgery-porn aesthetic of his operating theatre of cruelty: the latex, the scrubs, the cold steel, the exquisite yet appalling contrast between wounds and young flesh. It is twisted and mad, and its choreography and self-possession are superb.”

Kirk Honeycutt, Hollywood Reporter: “As implausible as it might seem, the cinema world of Pedro Almodóvar just got stranger in The Skin I Live In (La Piel Que Habito). Along with such usual Almodóvar obsessions as betrayal, anxiety, loneliness, sexual identity and death, the Spanish director has added a science-fiction element that verges on horror. But like many lab experiments, this melodramatic hybrid makes for an unstable fusion. Only someone as talented as Almodóvar could have mixed such elements without blowing up an entire movie.”

Eric Kohn, indieWIRE: “…Pedro Almodóvar’s The Skin I Live In is a medical revenge thriller about genre identity. It’s also a meandering, tonally confused work. Teaming with Antonio Banderas for the first time in two decades and working with genre elements he hasn’t touched in nearly as long, the Spanish auteur has a good time with outrageous plot twists and offbeat sexual intrigue. However, Almodóvar appears unmotivated to even try holding it all together. Instead, he lets the mess pile up and enjoys it.”

Dave Calhoun, Time Out London: “Once again Pedro Almodóvar reveals his genius for turning the ridiculous into the sublime with this creepy skin flick  – a melodramatic thriller that is sombre but never sober and that moves through time and space with much of the boldness and style we’ve come to expect from Spain’s leading director, even if it doesn’t have the overall sense of unity and authorial command of the likes of Volver or All About My Mother. Almodóvar’s ambition sometimes overtakes his writing, and at points his storytelling tends towards the knotty. It’s also a film that’s more interesting in the unveiling than the conclusion, and its last twenty minutes feel a little underwhelming and pedestrian compared to much of what’s come before. Mostly, though, this is a wonderfully strange, oddly sexy and attractively perverse mystery.”

Andrew O’Hehir, Salon: “They don’t sell popcorn at Cannes (in fact, you can’t bring any food or drink into the auditorium), which is too bad, because The Skin I Live In delivers more of an old-school moviegoing experience than anything else here this year. It’s recognizably an Almodóvar film from the first frames…but The Skin I Live In is genre-movie Pedro, Hitchcock-en-español Pedro, a fair bit icier and less emotional than the female-centric melodramas he’s made recently with Penélope Cruz.”

Hara-Kiri: Death of a Samurai (Ichimei) (Japan)
Directed by Takashi Miike
Starring Ebizo Ichikawa, Eita, Hikari Mitsushima, Koji Yakusho

Takashi Miike takes on Masaki Kobayshi’s terrific 1962 Cannes Jury Prize winner Harakiri.

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Mike D’Angelo, AV Club: “Like the original, it’s a methodical, often downright somber tale of honor codes gone awry, depicting the repercussions of a horrific incident in which a starving ronin gets his ‘suicide bluff’ called… Miike’s remake…begins arrestingly and ends explosively (though the finale seems to have been lifted wholesale from Kihachi Okamoto’s 1966 film The Sword of Doom), but gets bogged down in an extended flashback that takes up the film’s entire midsection. In the original film, this material (which, I’m told by folks who’ve seen the ’62 version more recently than I have, was heavily intercut with the present-day story) felt dramatically vital; here, it seems not just flaccid but superfluous, to the point where you wonder why it couldn’t have been condensed into a single line of dialogue.”

Kevin Jagernauth, Playlist: “The prospect of the first 3D competition film ever to screen at the Cannes Film Festival directed by the ridiculously prolific Japanese madman Takashi Miike sounds too good to be true. And unfortunately, that’s the case. Hara Kiri…is the complete opposite of what you might expect from a three-dimensional samurai movie from the director. Lethargically paced, visually dull and with an emphasis on drama over action, Hara Kiri plays like a bad Merchant Ivory film with a lot of sonorous or off-key acting building up to very little.”

Stephanie Zacharek, Movieline: “Miike lets the pace drag a bit too much when it comes to getting the story told. It’s not that Hara-Kiri is so badly made. And it’s interesting to see 3-D technology applied to a slow story for once, rather than an action movie. Plus, Miike uses 3-D for a few great effects: A wooden phoenix carving pops out in vivid detail; some pretty snowflakes fall ve-e-e-rry slowly, drifting down quietly at crucial dramatic moments. But mostly, the murkiness of the 3-D images work against Miike. Having to work so hard to process the visuals just throws you out of the story.”

Eric Kohn, indieWIRE: “…the best moments come at the end. A despondent samurai faces down the minions of a feudal lord, staging a ferocious battle for the memory of the relatives whose lives were lost to the lord’s cruel mandates. The swordplay buzzes along at a breathtaking rate, the bold fighter takes on dozens of foes at once, and Miike cuts to the fleeting image of a cat watching the whole thing go down. In that passing shot, which lasts no more than a second, the director suddenly elevates the material with the welcome element of surprise. Unfortunately, it’s a lonely moment.”

Justin Chang, Variety: “This slow-burning tragedy will disappoint auds expecting a nonstop slash-’em-up from Asian cinema’s most prolific purveyor of extreme violence. But Miike’s mournful variation on traditional samurai-movie themes of honor, sacrifice and retribution offers its own rewards,”

This Must Be the Place (Italy, France Ireland)
Directed by Paolo Sorrentino
Starring Sean Penn, Judd Hirsch, Eve Hewson, Kerry Condon, Harry Dean Stanton, Frances McDormand

Sean Penn plays a fading goth rock star on a road trip.

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Todd McCarthy, Hollywood Reporter: “Negotiating a consistent artistic path as steadily as a drunk walking a straight line, This Must Be the Place is all over the place dramatically, tonally and thematically… Eccentric, misguided and occasionally charming and sweet, this curiosity item with Sean Penn in one of his nuttier performances is unlikely to be embraced critically or commercially.”

Xan Brooks, Guardian: ” Hopes were high for Paolo Sorrentino’s This Must Be the Place but it’s slipshod and gaudy, topped off by a Sean Penn performance that is brave and exasperating in equal measure. He stars as Cheyenne, a fussy old Goth rocker who goes flouncing off across America on the trail of a Nazi war criminal. Sorrentino’s exotic folly is not without interest, although its self-indulgence sets my teeth on edge. It’s a turkey that dreamed it was a peacock.”

Peter Bradshaw, Guardian: “This Must Be the Place…has superbly elegant and distinctive forms: looming camera movements, bursts of pop, deadpan comedy, quasi-hallucinatory perspective lines in landscapes in which singular figures look vulnerably isolated. There’s an awful lot to enjoy here and yet I couldn’t help feeling that…the film becomes derivative and Wim Wenders-ish”

Glenn Heath Jr., The House Next Door: “I admire what Sorrentino and Penn are trying to accomplish with This Must Be the Place, especially in the visually inventive early moments set in New York City… But the narrative is so flimsy and dialogue beyond allegorical that it’s hard to take any of Cheyenne’s arc completely seriously. Even when the conversations between Cheyenne and a cross-section of American personalities add up to a jumble of non sequiturs and tangents, there’s a sentimental undercurrent that is particularly worrisome.”

Drive (USA)
Directed by Nicolas Winding Refn
Starring Ryan Gosling, Carey Mulligan, Ron Perlman, Christina Hendricks, Albert Brooks

Ryan Gosling plays a Hollywood stunt driver who also happens to be an ace getaway driver.

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Stephanie Zacharek, Movieline: “I love watching good stunt-driving shot cleanly, but I also love the long, potentially boring stretches that fixate on the glorious averageness of the American landscape, and the way driving can be a sort of Zen activity….Drive not only met my hopes; it charged way over the speed limit, partly because it’s an unapologetically commercial picture that defies all the current trends in mainstream action filmmaking. The driving sequences are shot and edited with a surgeon’s clarity and precision – Refn…doesn’t chop up the action to fool us into thinking it’s more exciting than it is. This is such a simple thing. Is it really reason enough to fall in love with a movie? Considering how sick I am of railing against the visual clutter in so many contemporary action movies…I think it is.”

Todd McCarthy, Hollywood Reporter: “A spasmodically violent, creatively cast and off-center fast-cars-and-crime drama, Drive belongs to a rarified genre subset of stripped down, semi-arty and quasi-existentialist action films that includes Point Blank, Bullitt and The Driver. With Ryan Gosling ably incarnating a pent-up man of few words who goes to great lengths to make one positive gesture in a rotten world, Danish wunderkind Nicolas Winding Refn has fashioned an atmospheric and engaging glorified potboiler that nonetheless seems powered by a half-empty creative tank.”

Xan Brooks, Guardian: “The mile-o-meter is ticking all the way back to the 1980s on Drive, an existential heist movie that doffs its cap to the back catalogues of Walter Hill, John Carpenter and Michael Mann. Directed with savvy aplomb by the Danish film-maker Nicolas Winding Refn, this plays out under cloudy LA skies and thrums to a narcotic synth-pop soundtrack as it rides shotgun alongside an imperilled Hollywood stuntman. Buckle up; it’s quite a ride.”

Mark Adams, Screen Daily: “Nicolas Winding Refn’s super-stylish and occasionally super-violent Drive is a magnificent homage to US crime films from the late 1970 and ‘80s, with Ryan Gosling impressive as the monosyllabic anti-hero caught up in a spiraling web of double-cross and violence… Danish director Nicolas Winding Refn makes great use of the LA locations to craft a stylishly memorable crime film that looks great in crisp widescreen and features a series of memorable performance. Perhaps best of all is Albert Brooks as a charmingly deadly crime boss – it is a performance that deserves to noticed by awards givers.”

Geoff Andrew, Time Out London: “Nicolas Winding Refn’s ultra-stylish neo-noir may be fine as a flashy genre piece, but originality is not its selling point… essentially a remake or remix of Walter Hill’s ‘The Driver’ and Michael Mann’s ‘Thief’, with extra snippets of ultra-violence (noisily stomped-in skulls, stabbings and razor-slashings) and sentimentality (a drippy unfulfilled relationship with two-expression romantic interest Carey Mulligan) tossed in for contemporary audiences… The main problem with the film is that it is so utterly derivative of movies rather than life: the clumsy dialogue, the visuals, the characterisation, the entire plot feel so over-familiar that nothing, however unlikely, ever comes as a surprise.”

2 Responses to “Cannes roundup: Almodovar, Miike, Penn, Gosling”

  1. Three cheers for the Almodovar raves–even those that are qualified make it sound fascinating.

    I’m reading Drive now, so the early reviews of that film are exciting for me there, too! Sounds like they may have gotten it right.

  2. I haven’t been crazy about Refn’s other films and this one definitely sounds like more style over substance, but that doesn’t mean it’s a bad thing. A nice looking rip off of Walter Hill with well edited car chases sounds good to me.

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