Wednesday, September 5, 2012

69th Venice Film Festival - Assorted Bits & Reviews

Zac Ephron & Maika Monroe - At Any Price
(Venice, Italy) An acquaintance recently asked me how the Venice Film Festival was going. I said it felt like home. In a world bombarded by war, crisis, financial meltdowns, etc. -- all the horrors that snake throughout the planet -- it is an honor to be surrounded by enlightened beings that try to make sense of it all. Plus, we've got this very cool new space out in the front where the hole for the new cinema used to be -- the new cinema that vanished with the last regime -- where everyone gathers for spritz & chips when the evening comes; the soundtrack pumping in the background runs the gamut from Mozart to Stevie Wonder. The atmosphere is different than years before. Less frenetic. The vibrations of the molecules have transformed into something higher, more refined.

Tomorrow's arrivals:

Robert Redford for The Company You Keep

Brian de Palma for Passion

Can you imagine such a thing: Robert Redford and Brian de Palma, two ancient warriors, still going at it?

It's fascinating how subjective movie-going can be. I've been playing catch-up, reading reviews of the films we've screened here at the 69th Venice International Film Festival, especially because some of the movies that premiered in Venice are now making their way to Telluride and Toronto.

At Any Price, directed by Ramin Bahran and starring Dennis Quaid is set in rural Iowa and about the dark side of the American farm industry. Trivia: Unknown 18-year-old Maika Monroe got the part because she sent in a home-made video of herself skateboarding. She is a natural. Check her out on the red carpet at The Sun.

Photo: Reel Life with Jane
Review I agree with most from Peter Bradshaw at The Guardian:

It's an unusual premise and some of the acting isn't bad, but the story is messy and unsatisfying with a plot-hole you could drive a dozen combine harvesters through, the ending is an outrageous fudge and the lead performance from Dennis Quaid is strange to say the least – for which responsibility must probably be shared between director and actor.

Utterly different point of view from Alex Billington at

Nearly every aspect of At Any Price is spectacular, and Bahrani does not miss a single detail. From the very start, which opens with Super 8 cam footage of the family growing up, to the score, to the performances, to the intricate story itself, to the human relationships and characters. Even what the local community thinks of them, and the dynamic relationships between farmers and customers and corporations, it's all there, and all accurately portrayed. It's beautifully shot, tremendously acted (by Quaid and Efron) and honestly, very affecting. The emotional journey this film took me on was phenomenal, and I did not expect it at all.

Michael Shannon in The Ice Man
The Iceman directed by Ariel Vroeman is based on real-life New Jersey hit-man, Richard Kuklinski (Michael Shannon), a loving family man with a wife (Winona Ryder) and two daughters whose job was to murder people for the Mafia. My favorite line, from The Telegraph review by Robbie Collin:

James Franco has a grimly brief cameo as one of Kuklinski’s victims, who prays for mercy as the Iceman reaches for his revolver. “You think you can convince God to come down here and stop me?” asks Kuklinski. “Go ahead. I’ll wait.” 

Winona Ryder
Trivia: Winona Ryder: "I've never played a Mom before."

Though The Iceman is not my cup of tea, I thought Michael Shannon gave a brilliant performance, and was warm and articulate during the press conference. Review I agree with the most from Geoffrey Macnab at The Independent

Michael Caine once explained that the secret of screen acting was to "be like a duck… remain calm on the surface but paddle like hell underneath". This is advice that the brilliant American actor Michael Shannon has clearly taken to heart. Shannon gives a bravura performance as the real-life mob hitman and New Jersey family man Richard Kuklinski in The Iceman.

... The Iceman is a slickly made and very violent thriller. There is more than a touch of Goodfellas about it. Like Martin Scorsese's film, it offers a deglamorised and very detailed picture of mobster life. The presence of Ray Liotta as the utterly ruthless crime boss Roy DeMeo, who takes Kuklinski under his wing, reinforces the sense that we are back in Scorsese's world.

Ray Liotta
Different point of view from Oliver Lyttleton at Indiewire:

There are some good instincts at work in the film from Vroman. It’s never a painful watch, more of a faintly dull, seen-it-all-before one. If nothing else, it’s evidence that these days, being based on a true story isn’t enough to elevate a film in a well-worn genre ahead of the pack. Fans of Shannon might get a kick out of seeing him front-and-center in a film like this, but for everyone else, it’s likely a rental at best.

Philip Seymour Hoffman, Joaquin Phoenix, Paul Thomas Anderson
 The Master, directed by Paul Thomas Anderson has gotten rave reviews from just about everybody. If you are expecting a Scientology exposé, this isn't it, though Anderson freely admitted that he based Lancaster Dodd, the character played by Philip Seymour Hoffman, on L. Ron Hubbard. During the press conference, Paul Thomas Anderson said he had been trying to get Joaquin Phoenix to be in one of films for a long time, and writes parts with Phoenix in mind. The word "feral" came up to describe the character, and seems to have made its way into a few reviews. I thought the performance should have been better controlled by Anderson. When Phoenix vanished in the middle of the press conference, he reinforced that point of view. (He did return.) To me, he is a very fine actor who needs to work with an icon instead of his buds. Anderson and Hoffman seemed hung-over and both needed grooming.

Amy Adams
The Master's wife, played by Amy Adams, was the stand-out. I just discovered she was born in Vicenza, about 40 minutes from Venice, on the American military base. Her performance was spooky.

Trivia: Phoenix really broke the toilet in the jail at San Pedro, which was an "antique" in Los Angeles, where time is counted in doggie-years. Anderson said, "It was a protected toilet. They were pissed off when they found out we broke it."

Review from Peter Bradshaw of The Guardian:

Anderson conjures a strange and dysfunctional world, a world that looks like 1950s America, but perhaps more like some alien planet that happens to look exactly like ours, a world pregnant with disturbing secrets. The setpieces and extended scenes are magnificently realised, arresting and bizarre. Freddie the seaman mumbling and masturbating on a beach, Freddie the department store photographer, Freddie the field hand, Freddie the bum. His tattered life passes before us, in its various phases, as in a frieze, stumbling towards his destiny and then onward, leaving even that behind. When he is being broken down by Dodd, the scenes are extended, happening almost in real time: it is discomfiting and bizarre. Hoffman's performance is not quite as distinctive as Phoenix's – and he arguably displays some mannerisms from previous movies – but he is utterly plausible as the leader and pseudo-scientific thinker, somewhere between Mussolini and Dale Carnegie.

Ben Affleck &  Rachel McAdams
Rumors were that most of Ben Affleck's part had been cut from To The Wonder by director Terrence Malick. Affleck is there; he just doesn't talk. None of the actors showed up for the press conference -- not even Malick, the director -- except for the female lead Olga Kurylenko, who spun around in circles most of the movie, and the vibrant Italian actress Romina Mondello, who stole the film with one scene. Nobody seemed to like the film except for Peter Bradshaw of The Guardian, who defends it:

Malick goes unhesitatingly out on a limb and the branch creaks a bit. When To the Wonder ended, there was the now traditional storm of hissing and booing at the Venice film festival. Malick gets this treatment, while the most insipid, unadventurous movies here can fade to black and roll credits in respectful quiet. I can only say that I responded to its passion and idealism.

Ciao from the 69th Venice International Film Festival,
Venetian Cat - The Venice Blog

1 comment:

  1. It's fascinating how subjective movie-going can be. I've been playing catch-up, reading reviews of the films we've screened here at the 69th Venice International Film Festival, especially because some of the movies that premiered in Venice are now making their way to Telluride and Toronto.