Gary Oldman in Tomas Alfredson’s adaptation of John le Carre’s Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy

If you read the first Festival Falderal, you know the drill this year: for the higher profile films playing Venice, Telluride and Toronto, I’m just going to link directly to the carefully curated critical links compiled by David Hudson at MUBI while I focus my own energies digging out the word on some of the lesser known pics.They whys and wherefores are explained in the previous post.

There is plenty to see including the new doc from Werner Herzog, Steve McQueen and Michael Fassbender’s Hunger followup co-starring Carey Mulligan, the latest from Todd Solondz and the Persepolis filmmakers go live action. But first up, the big ones:

I’m not sure Tomas Alfredson’s adaptation of John le Carre’s Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy quite counts as a high profile pic though it is for me. I loved the book and I’m deeply curious about how well they’re going to be able to translate its slow burn to the screen in this age dominated by action and shaky cinematography. If they’re as faithful as I hope they are, I can’t see audiences flocking to this thing en masse. Then again, it’s a mostly European production so it was probably made relatively cheaply by Hollywood standards. Gary Oldman plays George Smiley a retired MI6 agent who is brought back in when it appears there is a traitor in the spy agency’s midst. Colin Firth, Tom Hardy, John Hurt, Toby Jones, Mark Strong, Benedict Cumberbatch and Ciaran Hinds co-star. Many of you will remember director Alfredson’s name from internet favorite Let the Right One In. Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy which made its world premiere in Venice opens in the US on December 9. Here’s the good word at MUBI.

Something about the idea of Glenn Close playing a woman playing a man in Rodrigo Garcia’s Albert Nobbs just reeks of Oscar bait and it gives me a rash. Having said that, she’s a terrific actress (though I have to say I’ve always pretty much hated The Big Chill and Fatal Attraction) and, though she had a decent audience in TV’s Damages, she’s been under appreciated since her ’80s heyday. She reteams with her Nine Lives director for this story of a woman who pretends to be a man so she can get a job as a butler in a high end Dublin hotel. Mia Wasikowska, Jonathan Rhys Meyers and Aaron Johnson co-star. Having made its world premiere at Telluride, Albert Nobbs will next play Toronto. It doesn’t have a US release date. Check out the MUBI roundup.

And now the rest:

Into the Abyss: A Tale of Death, A Tale of Life. d:Werner Herzog

Everyone’s favorite German documentarian/filmmaker takes a look at a Texas murder case and the 28-year-old sitting on death row for the crime. The film was picked up ahead of its Telluride/Toronto premiere by IFC label Sundance Selects. No release date has been announced. Check out TIFF clips 1, 2 and 3. I’d planned on holding this one until more reviews cropped up, but they never did. For now I’ll go with these two and update later.

Over at In Contention, Herzog fan Kris Tapley says:

“I was pretty much leveled by Into the Abyss: A Tale of Death, a Tale of Life. With it, Herzog has manifested a crucial viewing experience. In short, the film is a penetrating, comprehensive look at the issue of capital punishment by way of studying the circumstances and prominent figures in the case… Whatever your position on capital punishment, the film is necessary, plain and simple. If you believe in it, you need to spend the time Herzog does with the family and friends of the accused, pealing back the layers of judgment and digging to the root of his thesis: all life is precious. If you don’t believe in it, you need to witness the pain of the victims’ families, as Herzog conveys it, and the cold brutality of the more sterile portions dedicated to forensics and consideration of the crimes. It isn’t for the purpose of swaying opinion, I feel, so much as the purpose of educating whatever opinion you might have.”

Update: Tapley’s got an interview with Herzog here.

Peter DeBruge in Variety:

“On one level, Werner Herzog’s Into the Abyss is an appeal to end capital punishment, but it’s not the kind of documentary that drives policy change. The thoughtful helmer’s probing death-row doc offers no statistics, no dramatic reenactments, no angry ultimatum lobbed at lawmakers — just testimony from convicted killers, the victim’s families and several cogs in Texas’ criminal justice system. It does get you thinking… As one of cinema’s most intellectually curious directors, Herzog can be trusted to ask the right questions of his subjects — despite the fact he’s clearly unyielding in his anti-death penalty stance. The case against execution is only a tiny sliver of his inquiry, however, with the testimony he collects opening several rich veins of philosophical reflection.”

Shame. d:Steve McQueen. s:Michael Fassbender and Carey Mulligan

Though very difficult to watch, Hunger launched both director McQueen and star Fassbender into the ranks of people to watch out for. Well, they’re both back with Shame which made it’s debut at Venice. Fassbender plays a sex-addicted New Yorker whose life is upended when his little sister (Mulligan) moves in. Most of the reviews stop to mention the full frontal nudity on the part of both Fassbender and Mulligan, though they mostly seem to agree none of it is meant to be very titillating. Shame doesn’t have a US distributor as of this writing, but it’s slated for a UK release in January 2012. Check out the Venice press conference and a clip here.

Justin Chang, Variety:

“Few filmmakers have plumbed the soul-churning depths of sexual addiction as fearlessly as British director Steve McQueen has in Shame. A mesmerizing companion piece to his 2008 debut, Hunger, this more approachable but equally uncompromising drama likewise fixes its gaze on the uses and abuses of the human body, as Michael Fassbender again strips himself down, in every way an actor can, for McQueen’s rigorous but humane interrogation.”

David Gritten at Thompson on Hollywood:

Shame goes even further out on a limb than McQueen’s feature debut Hunger, about the Irish revolutionary martyr Bobby Sands, who starved himself to death in jail. Shame’s central character is a sex addict, whose exploits are depicted in graphic detail… what a gifted filmmaker McQueen is turning out to be. He composes every frame exquisitely,  from the tableau-like opening image of Fassbender sprawled in bed looking dead-eyed. There’s an impressive long tracking shot as Brandon runs the length of several city blocks, using the exertion to quell his inner rage.”

Xan Brooks in The Guardian:

“Michael Fassbender and Carey Mulligan give dynamite performances in Shame, a terrific second feature from the British artist Steve McQueen… [It] feels less formal, less rooted in the language of the art installation than McQueen’s previous film…and is all the more satisfying for that. This is fluid, rigorous, serious cinema; the best kind of adult movie.”

Guy Lodge of In Contention:

“A sternly formalist parable on the pruning and stunting of relationships both familial and carnal in modern-day urban society… It’s no slight on the actors, and only a measure of the hand guiding them, that McQueen remains the star here. Like the finest filmmakers from a fine-arts background, he has a consistently rewarding understanding of the narrative powers of composition: abetted by heaving, tricky sound design and Harry Escott’s counter-intuitively soaring score (with an assist from some well-chosen Glenn Gould recordings), Shame conjures image upon image of such astonishing beauty that they’d risk stalling the film if not for the spare depth of feeling grounding the whole.”

Gregory Ellwood of HitFix:

“A remarkable snapshot of the perils of sexual compulsion in the modern world, Steve McQueen’s new drama Shame is simply a spectacular work of art… Like his previous work with McQueen in Hunger, Fassbender bares it all in what seems more like a natural and necessary artistic collaboration than titillating eroticism.  And a point must be made that while beautifully shot the sexual scenes in the film aren’t always intended to be erotic for the viewer.  In fact, the picture may contain the saddest sex scenes in recent memory”

Dave Calhoun in Time Out London:

“After Hunger, McQueen has immersed himself in a wholly different world and made a film that is similarly distinctive and exploratory and grasps you from beginning to end. He has also succeeded in making a film about an extreme character that doesn’t feel so divorced from everyday sexual desire and behaviour. You imagine McQueen feels there’s a lot of many – or all – of us in Brandon, even if his troubles feel quite uniquely tragic in the moment.”

Dark Horse. d:Todd Solondz. s:Justin Bartha, Selma Blair, Mia Farrow, Christopher Walken.

I run hot and cold with Mr. Solondz, but I remain interested in whatever it is he happens to be up to.  Welcome to the Dollhouse and Happiness are both alternately exhilarating and appalling and I can never be quite sure whether Solondz is just going for shock value or if he’s really up to something. His quasi-Happiness sequel Life During Wartime was not without its flaws, but it demonstrated a new maturity on the part of the director and the sense that he really was empathizing with his characters rather than just torturing them for our (and his own) gratification. Dark Horse tells the story of an unlikely romance between an over weight, emotionally stunted toy collector and a family black sheep (Blair). No US release date yet, but I suspect it’ll be making the rounds of the festival circuit. As with Into the Abyss, reviews are sparse as of this writing so I’ll update later if more come along.

Guy Lodge, In Contention:

“[Dark Horse is] a more streamlined character comedy that, while neither as probing nor as acidly funny as 2009?s Life During Wartime, might just represent the warmest film Solondz is capable of making. That’s not to say he’s come over all Nora Ephron on us – the director still trades in emotional paralysis, and throws in Hepatitis B as a crucial plot point for good measure – but the film is colored by an overriding spirit of grudging compassion”

Oliver Lyttelton, Playlist:

“What Solondz has done, in essence, is made a Kevin James movie… What Dark Horse has in its favor over similarly-themed pictures is a brutal psychological realism… There are things to recommend about Dark Horse, and it’s good to see Solondz challenging himself, at least. But it’s a film to be admired rather than to be liked, and a long, long way from the director’s best work.”


Stephanie Zacharek, Movieline:

“It’s about as sweet a film as Solondz is ever likely to make — but that’s not to say it’s particularly sweet…The picture is laden, like a tray of cheap bakery cookies, with jokes that are both off-kilter and thuddingly obvious”

Xan Brooks, The Guardian:

“No one stages a bad party like director Todd Solondz. He’s your host with the most desperate and needy revellers, the worst decor, the most agonising social faux-pas. I staggered out of Dark Horse wondering whether the drinks had been dosed with ground glass and the balloons inflated with poison gas. I also felt I had attended maybe one too many of these sour little soirees.”

Jonathan Romney, Screen Daily:

“Don’t expect Todd Solondz’s usual level of squirm-inducing provocation from Dark Horse. Low on taboo content (the queasiest humour here concerns Hepatitis B), this character portrait cum anti-romcom is no stronger in content than much American TV humour of the Curb Your Enthusiasm school – and arguably, Solondz’s films have helped shift the parameters of what’s acceptable in mainstream comedy… Even so, Dark Horse, accomplished and witty as it is, seems like treading water, at times even like a step back for a writer-director who is certainly among the most individual and downright intelligent of his generation.”

Chicken with Plums. d:Marjane Satrapi and Vincent Paronnaud. s:Isabella Rosellini, Mathieu Amalric, Chiara Mastroianni, Jamel Debbouze

Satrapi and Paronnaud’s animated Persepolis wound up being one of the greater disappointments of 2009. After all the gushing hype, I was mildly charmed but left seriously wondering what all the fuss was about. Here they go live action with a 1950s Tehran-set story about the last week in the life of a musician whose wife broke his beloved instrument. Chicken with Plums made it’s world premiere at Venice. It has no US release date but is set to open in France in October.

Jay Weissberg, Variety:

“The same winning balance of seriousness and humor that made Persepolis such a hit works equally well in Chicken With Plums, whose visual flair proves that helmers Marjane Satrapi and Vincent Paronnaud have a career in live-action as well as in animation… What Satrapi and Paronnaud have really achieved is an evocation of a lost world, much as they did in Persepolis. They’ve beautifully re-created the fiercely proud, Western-leaning life of the Persian middle class of the 1950s.”

Xan Brooks, The Guardian:

“If the film’s whimsical, magic-realist tone will prove too honeyed for some tastes, there’s no denying its confidence and invention. Chicken With Plums shows that Satrapi – again collaborating with co-director Vincent Paronnaud – was no flash in the pan.”

Guy Lodge, In Contention:

“Satrapi and Paronnaud are certainly more concerned with ornamenting memory than with parsing it, decking out this slight fancy — those squinting a little may find a ribbon of political metaphor amid the clutter, but don’t strain yourself — with a cornucopia of visual filters and frills that pitch the film’s aesthetic roughly halfway between Satrapi’s own illustrative work and one of the adolescent Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s more elaborate wet dreams. They’re all realized with exquisite aplomb by the wonderful French cinematographer Christophe Beaucarne (Outside the Law, On Tour), but the cumulative effect is oppressively frou-frou and only intermittently beguiles. Chicken With Plums may be as incongruously sweet as the traditional dish of the title, but it’s rather less nourishing.”

6 Responses to “Festival Falderal: Digging for Gold Round 2”

  1. Color me very excited about Tinker and Shame. And I’m always curious about Solondz’s work.

  2. Based on the gushing in my newsfeed, it looks like people are fairly crazy about Tinker. Can’t wait to check it out.

    I’m fully on board Shame and interested to learn that it’s a bit more approachable than Hunger which was defintely a tough sit.

    With Solondz, I’m hoping he’s continued this streak of maturity he’s displayed lately.

  3. Reminds me I need to get back to reading Tinker. I put it down, and then got distracted by something shiny and Game of Thrones-titled.

    Is it just me or is Herzog cranking the films out fast and furious these days?

  4. It’s not a book that’s necessarily a page turner or one that’s easy to warm up to. It’s a bunch of old English dudes in rumpled brown raincoats sweating the fall of their empire and ringing their hands about a traitor in the midst of their intelligence service. It ain’t James Bond, but then that’s the appeal for people who like it.

    That’s partly why I’m not convinced it’s going to fly as a movie. At least not for a lot of people.

    Herzog’s not a fellow who messes around. Your Finchers and your Paul Thomas Andersons my fritter around for years trying to figure out what to make next, but not Herzog.

  5. Herzog’s one of my fantasy dinner guests. He’s just so cool and strange and talented.

  6. I would like him to narrate my day.

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