Saturday, August 31, 2013

PHILOMENA - A Fabulous Surprise

Judi Dench & Steve Coogan in PHILOMENA
(Venice, Italy) There are few things more delightful than watching a film with no expectations, and slowly realizing that you are witnessing a cinematic triumph. When a theater full of jaded journalists weep together, laugh together, applaud together; when an entire theater shares a deeply moving human experience, you know you've got a hit.

PHILOMENA is the real name of a real Irishwoman, Philomena Lee (played to perfection by Judi Dench), an unwed mother whose son, Antony, was sold by Catholic nuns to wealthy Americans back in the 1950s, a secret she kept from even her own daughter until what would have been Antony's 50th birthday. It is the story of Philomena's quest to find Antony with the help of real-life journalist, Martin Sixsmith, played by Steve Coogan, who also co-wrote the screenplay.

From Indiewire:

If you were seeking a guaranteed recipe for box-office success, casting Judi Dench as a sweet little old Irish lady trying to track down the son she was forced into giving up for adoption decades earlier sounds like the winning ingredient. Add in Steve Coogan as an acerbic British journalist enlisted in her search, helping to steer the story away from the swamp of sentiment, and the fact that it's based on a true story, and you have Stephen Frears' triumphant, warm-hearted crowd-pleaser "Philomena". The Weinstein Company will undoubtedly feel they have a potential hit on their hands with the emotive, funny "Philomena", and Coogan, Frears and, in particular, Dench all look destined for oodles of awards-season love.

Judi Dench & Steve Coogan
What a bunch of wise old pros. Could the Brits actually be waking up, ready to take the lead? Stephen Frears, the director, Judi Dench, the actress, Steve Coogan, the actor and co-writer, and Jeff Pope, co-writer, were all here in Venice. Judi Dench had met Philomena, who is now 80-years-old, several times and said they shared a similar sense of humor -- which is important because what really makes the movie work is Philomena's amusing observations of life. Wondering what her son might look like now, she says: "What if he's obese? A lot of Americans are."

From The Guardian:

As for Dench, she's purely wonderful. Surely nobody else could have taken Philomena's rambling preçis of a romantic novel and turned it into such a masterpiece of comic timing - a spluttering, absurdist pastoral that's all the more impressive for being delivered at speed while travelling backwards through the airport aboard an electric cart.

Throughout the press conference, Stephen Frears expressed his desire that the Pope see the film. "He seems rather a good bloke, the Pope."

Pope Francis' Twitter Selfie
PHILOMENA. Coming soon to a theater near you.

Ciao from Venezia,
Venetian Cat - The Venice Blog

Friday, August 30, 2013

Yes, I Saw THE CANYONS - Lindsay Lohan No Show

Lindsay Lohan in The Canyons
(Venice, Italy) Lindsay Lohan didn't show up for the press conference of The Canyons, which was a disappointment because she was the best thing in the film. At the opening of the press conference, Paul Schrader declared: "Today I am a free man. For the last 16 months I've been hostage, by own choosing, to a very talented but unpredictable actress. She was supposed to be here today, she said she would be, but she is not."

To me, from the audience point of view, what was wrong with The Canyons was not Lindsay Lohan, but the rest of the cast, James Deen in particular -- not to mention the script. I once saw a tee-shirt that I loved: A D.J. IS NOT A ROCK STAR. Well, a porn star is not a movie star, either. James Deen seems to be a nice enough guy, but he can't hold the screen. Brett Easton Ellis took the credit for the casting, saying that he insisted that James Deen get the lead, which is also what the film is about -- an actor who gets the lead in a low-budget film at someone's insistence. 

Schrader said that he and Ellis were "not on the same page, but we're in the same book." AMERICAN GIGOLO meets LESS THAN ZERO, they are a generation apart. Ellis said he wrote the script specifically for Schrader and that it was a "cold, dead film about cold, dead people," which might not float everyone's boat, but "we are fascinated by that." He sounded a bit peeved that critics these days demand a more humanistic view of the world.

(Personally, I find cold, dead people utterly boring. I much prefer warm, living people who are creative, not destructive. All you have to do to break a glass is drop it. To create a glass requires a hell of a lot more work.)

James Deen was almost sweet in his naivete about Hollywood: "People have issues with honesty. They have a different form of thinking. Not everybody is Brett and Paul. There are a lot of horrible people."

Lindsay Lohan & James Deen

The Canyons really is not as bad as everyone is making it out to be. The budget was $150,000-$200,000, and it shows. It was set in Los Angeles, and it is always fun to watch my old town in the movies, seeing what has changed, and what remains the same. 

The sex scene was not pornographic; in fact, I thought it was one of the best scenes in the movie. During a foursome, Tara, (Lohan) deftly conquers the power from Christian (Deen). She, not he, takes over the orchestration of the scene, much to the bewilderment of Christian, who usually gets off on being in control. His loss of power was one of the few genuine reactions by Deen, who seemed right at home among the naked writhing bodies -- it was his comfort zone, and he came alive. For a brief moment, you could glimpse what Brett Easton Ellis saw -- but for only a fleeting moment. 
James Deen

From The Guardian:

Would it be redundant to mention that the acting is awful? These people are unconvincing as people, and that may well be the point. Ellis's dialogue is so stilted and overwritten that it reduces the performers to gabbling wrecks, rushing headlong at their lines with an air of wild-eyed desperation. All of which is of a piece, but that doesn't make it good. Near the end of the film, sleazy Christian takes a drive into town for a meeting with the director Gus Van Sant, who apparently moonlights as a sensitive shrink. The two men sit inside a quiet, book-lined study as Christian outlines his various issues. "We're all actors, aren't we?" he asks the director. But Van Sant won't be drawn. He responds with a frown and his silence speaks volumes.

Meanwhile, Lohan's people have issued statements that “Saturday Night Live has approached Lindsay to host the show again, and they were talking about the season opener,”and “Lindsay is doing really, really well. She is going to business meetings and she’s been on time for every single one of them. This is the best I’ve seen her in years.”

What a crew. 

Brett Easton Ellis, James Deen, Paul Schrader, Tenille Houston (not Lohan)
Like the sad foursome in the film, Lohan, Schrader, Ellis and Deen hit rock bottom together in The Canyons, a mechanical group orgy without hope or soul. Hopefully, their individual talents are strong enough to allow them to find genuine passion once again.

Ciao from Venezia,
Venetian Cat - The Venice Blog

Wednesday, August 28, 2013


Sandra Bullock & George Clooney on Red Carpet - Venice Film Festival
 (Venice, Italy) [UPDATED 8-30-13] Prediction: GRAVITY will be a blockbuster.

Seriously. I have not been on a roller coaster ride like that for years. Visually, the film is mind-blowing. See it in 3D, or even better, in IMAX, and you will be in outer space. There are a couple of scenes when the dialogue is a little too on-the-nose, but that's a minor quibble. From Variety:

As scripted by [Alfonso] Cuaron and his son Jonas, this tale of one woman’s grim expedition into the unknown is a nerve-shredding suspenser, a daring study in extreme isolation, and one of the most sophisticated and enveloping visions of space travel yet realized onscreen. It falls among that increasingly rare breed of popular entertainments capable of prompting genuine “How did they do that?” reactions from even the most jaded viewers, even as its central premise is so simple and immediately gripping that one might just as readily ask, “Why didn’t anyone do it sooner?”

Heyman, Bullock, A. Cuaron, Clooney, J. Cuaron  Photo: La Biennale
The core team was here in Venice: The stars, George Clooney and Sandra Bullock; the director, Alfonso Cuaron, and his son, Jonas, who share writing credit, and the producer, David Heyman, who produced all eight HARRY POTTER films.

During the press conference, Alfonso and Jonas Cuaron spoke about the script. Jonas had written it  years ago; then the financial crisis hit, and the film fell apart. He wanted to place two characters in a hostile environment in order to overcome adversities. And there is no better metaphor for adversity than floating, untethered, through space. What defines us is the after-effect that adversity has on us. How do we handle adversity? He wanted a stripped-down narrative and to rely on the development of the characters so that it would not only be a movie that grabbed you on the edge of your seat for 90 minutes, but at the same time juggle with something bigger.

GRAVITY is inspired by the Kesler Syndrome. From Wikipedia:

The Kessler syndrome, proposed by the NASA scientist Donald J. Kessler in 1978, is a scenario in which the density of objects in low Earth orbit (LEO) is high enough that collisions between objects could cause a cascade – each collision generating space debris which increases the likelihood of further collisions. One implication is that the distribution of debris in orbit could render space exploration, and even the use of satellites, infeasible for many generations.

In other words, there is so much stuff floating around up there -- satellites, telescopes, space stations and whatnot -- that if something goes wrong with one object, the whole thing could go down.

Bullock and Clooney both looked great, especially super-toned Bullock, who is 49-years-old (and is a Leo, born one day before and a few years after me:). They were asked if they did special training.

CLOONEY: Sandy had a trainer. I drank my way through.

Photo: La Biennale
 BULLOCK: (Joking) I drank my way through, too.

When I heard the words "wire systems," I knew I needed a lot of training. I wanted my character to look a certain way... not "androgynous," but to remove the feminine, maternal aspects. I wanted my body to be a machine. It was a lot of training, but it was worth it. I'm not great at anything, but I'm good at lots of little things, and this role allowed me to use those things. I was a dancer, and a gymnast, and my parents were opera singers. The soundtrack helped me get the emotions.

 Someone said they wanted to ask Clooney two questions:

QUESTION #1 - Why did you make this movie?

CLOONEY: I liked the character. If you're lucky enough in this business to get to make choices, then it comes down to three things: the script, the director, and the other actors. You can't make a good film out of bad script, but you can make a bad film out of a good script. I have a lot of respect for Alfonso, and I have been friends with Sandy for many years.

QUESTION #2 - Do you think Barack Obama should send troops to Syria?

CLOONEY: And here I thought the second question would be what I thought about Ben Affleck playing Batman!

Needless to say, Clooney did not answer the second question.

Bullock said that she had the opportunity to speak with the astronauts on the International Space Station, and that the cell phone signal works great to space. She said she was most impressed with the reason they are up there: because they care deeply about life, and our life.

Someone said that they had heard that George Clooney had gotten a satellite, and now that he was here in person, he wanted to know if it was true or just gossip.

CLOONEY: Yes, I have one, and I am watching you.

I have a satellite to keep an eye on the atrocities in Sudan and South Sudan. And it seems to be working. Now they only do things at night or under cloud cover. Next, it will be infrared. Whatever it takes. ...And we are watching you.

Paolo Baratta, Pres. of La Biennale, Sandra Bullock, Giorgione Orsoni, Mayor of Venice, Alberto Barbera, Dir. of Cinema
 More reviews:

The Guardian:

The Venice film festival lands on its feet with a brilliant opening night thriller which sees Sandra Bullock and George Clooney flailing in space and director Alfonso Cuarón masterfully steering the ship

The Hollywood Reporter:

At once the most realistic and beautifully choreographed film ever set in space, Gravity is a thrillingly realized survival story spiked with interludes of breath-catching tension and startling surprise. Not at all a science fiction film in the conventional sense, Alfonso Cuaron's first feature in seven years has no aliens, space ship battles or dystopian societies, just the intimate spectacle of a man and a woman trying to cope in the most hostile possible environment across a very tight 90 minutes. World premiered at the Venice Film Festival, with Telluride showings following quickly on its heels, this Warner Bros. release is smart but not arty, dramatically straightforward but so dazzlingly told as to make it a benchmark in its field. Graced by exemplary 3D work and bound to look great in IMAX, the film seems set to soar commercially around the world. 

The Independent

A decade after collaborating on Harry Potter And The Prisoner Of Azkaban (2003), Mexican director Alfonso Cuaron and British producer David Heyman have combined forces again on Gravity, a 3D survival thriller set in deepest, darkest space. The new film (which opens the Venice Film Festival) is a visual triumph even if its storytelling is less than sure-footed.

GRAVITY opens on October 4, 2013, and will be released in 3D, 2D and IMAX, and is distributed worldwide by Warner Bros. Pictures.

Ciao from Venezia,
Venetian Cat - The Venice Blog

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Up, Up and Away! There Goes Mary... August 15, 2013

Santa Maria Assunta (Interior) - Torcello
(Venice, Italy) It seems that every year August 15th is a glorious day here in Venice, both in terms of the weather and in spirit. Yesterday the temperature dropped, and we had strong winds and rain, as if the heavens themselves were sweeping the earth fresh and new for today, Assumption Day, the day that Mary Went Up to Heaven. Today it is sunny and warm, but not too hot, with plenty of pleasant, polite people, but not too crowded. Today Venice is just right.

If you are a long-time reader of Venetian Cat - The Venice Blog, you will know I have written about this day several times before.

Tower of the Church of Santa Maria Assunta as seen from Venice lagoon
Here is an excerpt from 2011, a year I wrote an extremely long post:

"The influence of the divine female energy upon Italy -- Venice in particular -- cannot be underestimated. Before Venice came into power, another island in the lagoon, the island of Torcello, was settled first. 

After the fall of the western Roman Empire, a wondrous city grew up on Torcello, which was a distant outpost of the Byzantine Empire, trading with Constantinople. One of the most important things to know about Venice is that it did not exist when the empire was based in Rome. It came into existence when the Roman empire was based in Constantinople and called the Byzantium Empire. We can imagine that some clever, enlightened people, free from the direct rule of an empire, built up Torcello before the emperor in Constantinople figured out what was going on. About the same time, the story goes, authorities from Padua founded Venice proper at Rialto on Friday, March 25, 421 at twelve-o'clock noon. Eventually these islands in the Venetian lagoon would become what we now know as Venice. 

Torcello - Santa Maria Assunta
There are all sorts of stories and myths about how Venice was created. I like to believe that she -- because everyone agrees that Venice is female -- was born from divine female energy, just as a divine Mary gave birth to the Son of God. To this day on the island of Torcello, there is a church called the Cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta, or the Cathedral of the Assumption of St. Mary that was first founded in 639. Instead of Christ over the altar, we have Mary. 

The late Pope John Paul came from Venice and startled the world when he proclaimed that 'He (God) is our father; even more, he is our mother.' This celebration of divine female energy is something else that sets the European culture apart."

To read the entire post, click here:

The Assumption of Mary - The Divine Female

Today was a true La Serenissima day. Happy Ferragosto!

Ciao from Venezia,
Venetian Cat - The Venice Blog

Sunday, August 11, 2013

American Films at the Venice Film Festival 2013

(Venice, Italy) The Academy Award-winning director, William Friedkin, best known for directing The French Connection and The Exorcist, will be honored with Golden Lion for Lifetime Achievement at the 70th Venice International Film Festival. Friedkin said that The Sorcerer (1977) was his favorite film, and believes that it didn't do as well as it should have at the box office because it was competing against Star Wars. Well, soon we will get the chance to see it here at the Venice Film Festival because it's getting another breath of life 36 years later.

Many people have asked about the screening schedule for the public for the 70th Venice International Film Festival. It is now up on the La Biennale website.

Every so often my German-American brain tries to organize things in a different way than the byzantine method used here in Venice. So, in addition to the previous post in which I listed all the American films competing in the festival, I am now going to list the additional American films showing at the festival, by category. It was quite a project, and I hope I got them all. If any film catches your eye, go to the La Biennale website and flip through the screening schedule until you find the day it is playing. If the film was a joint US production together with another country, I listed it, as did with the previous post about the films in competition that you can read here:

 OUTERSPACE EXPLOSION! What's Playing on the Lido - 70th Venice Film Festival 2013

Important works by directors already established in previous editions of the Festival

Usa, 91'
George Clooney, Sandra Bullock

Italy, Usa, 80'
Gail Zappa, Moon Zappa, Diva Zappa, Dweezil Zappa, Mathilda Doucette, Megan Zappa, Massimo Bassoli, Steve Vai, Tanino Liberatore, Thomas Nordegg
The docu is dedicated to Frank Zappa and his concert at the Stadio della Favorita in Palermo in July of 82, which was interrupted after only twenty minutes due to clashes between the police and the public.

Usa, 122'
Lance Armstrong

From the NY Times: "Sony Pictures Classics said in a news release that Mr. Gibney spent four years following Mr. Armstrong, starting in 2009,  as he returned from retirement and unsuccessfully pursued another Tour de France title. “Unexpectedly,” the release said, “Gibney was also there in 2012 when Armstrong admitted to doping, following a federal criminal investigation, public accusations of doping by his ex-teammates and an investigation by the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency.” The film project that “began as the chronicle of a comeback became an examination into the anatomy of a lie.”"

Usa, 4'

We can only imagine what this short short is about:)

Usa, 99'
Lindsay Lohan, James Deen, Nolan Gerard Funk, Gus Van Sant 

Now we will see what all the fuss is about. From The Guardian: Bret Easton Ellis has told The Hollywood Reporter he was left "confused" by the level of hatred unleashed by critics of The Canyons, the Lindsay Lohan-starring "modern day film noir" he wrote for director Paul Schrader. Schrader's film, which also features porn star James Deen in a leading role, was turned down by both Sundance and SXSW film festivals and widely rubbished by reviewers upon its eventual low-key release in one New York cinema and via on-demand.

Usa, 244'

The acclaimed documentary filmmaker is still going strong at age 83. This time his eye is on the Berkeley Campus.

 The new trends in world cinema

USA, 98'
Emma Roberts, Jack Kilmer, James Franco, Val Kilmer, Keegan Allen, Nat Wolff, Colleen Camp 

Granddaughter of Francis Ford and niece of Sofia, Gia Coppola gives it a shot.

USA, 7'
Orto Ignatiussen, Lajla Lange, Maligiaq Fredeik, Lange Siegstad, Sandra Bullock (voice) 

USA, Italy, 98'
Catalina Sandino Moreno, Brían F. O'Byrne  

USA, 95'
Joe Swanberg, AJ Bowen, Kentucker Audley, Amy Seimetz, Gene Jones 

From The Horror Society: From acclaimed writer/director Ti West (The House of the Devil, The Innkeepers) and horror master Eli Roth, The Sacrament follows two Vice media correspondents as they set out to document their friend’s search to find his missing sister. They travel outside of the United States to an undisclosed location where they are welcomed into the world of “Eden Parish,” a self-sustained rural utopia with nearly 200 members. At the center of this small, religious, socialist community is a mysterious leader known only as “Father.” As their friend reunites with his sister, it becomes apparent to the newcomers that this paradise may not be as it seems.

 A selection of restored classic films and documentaries on cinema

Belgium, Usa, 65' 

From Criterion: "Under Chantal Akerman’s watchful eye, a cheap Manhattan hotel glows with mystery and unexpected beauty, its corridors, elevators, rooms, windows, and occasional occupants framed like Edward Hopper tableaux."

Usa, 75'
Richard Brewster, Winifred Cushing, Jay Williams 

Little Fugitive won the Silver Lion at the Venice Film Festival in 1953.
From Wikipedia: "Little Fugitive is a 1953 film written and directed by Raymond Abrashkin (as "Ray Ashley"), Morris Engel and Ruth Orkin, that tells the story of a child alone in Coney Island. It stars Richie Andrusco in the title role, and Richard Brewster as his brother Lennie. Little Fugitive influenced the French New Wave and is considered by modern day critics to be a landmark film because of its naturalistic style and groundbreaking use of nonprofessional actors in lead roles. It was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Writing, Motion Picture Story and screened at Venice film festival where it was awarded with the silver lion. In 1997, the film was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant"."

Usa, 97'
Henry Fonda, Linda Darnell, Victor Mature

From Wikipedia: "My Darling Clementine is a 1946 Western movie directed by John Ford and starring Henry Fonda as Wyatt Earp during the Gunfight at the OK Corral. The ensemble cast also features Linda Darnell, Victor Mature, Walter Brennan, Tim Holt and Ward Bond."

Usa, 121'
Roy Scheider, Bruno Cremer, Francisco Rabal

From Wikipedia: "The director William Friedkin considers Sorcerer his favourite, most personal and the most difficult film he has ever made. He thought at the time that it would become his legacy. After a lengthy lawsuit filed against Paramount and Universal Studios, Friedkin is supervising a digital restoration of Sorcerer, with the new print set to be premiered at the 70th Venice International Film Festival on August 29, 2013 (Friedkin's birthday, coincidentally). Home video releases are also in the works."

Usa, 80'

I was perplexed as to why this 2013 documentary that Samantha Fuller made to honor her filmmaker father, Sam Fuller, is listed under "classics;" perhaps it's because the clips are from Sam Fuller's flicks? 

From IMDb: Friends and admirers of iconoclastic film director Sam Fuller read from his memoirs in this unconventional documentary directed by Fuller's only child, Samantha.

Usa, 59'
Joel McCrea, Fay Wray, Robert Armstrong

Ah, they don't make 'em like they used to. From IMDb: "An insane hunter arranges for a ship to be wrecked on an island where he can indulge in some sort of hunting and killing of the passengers."

Usa, 120'
Chet Baker, Carol Baker, Vera Baker 
From Wikipedia: "A group of Baker fans, ranging from ex-associates to ex-wives and children, talk about the man. Weber’s film traces the man’s career from the 1950s, playing with jazz greats like Charlie Parker, Gerry Mulligan, and Russ Freeman, to the 1980s, when his heroin addiction and domestic indifference kept him in Europe. By juxtaposing these two decades, Weber presents a sharp contrast between the younger, handsome Baker — the statuesque idol who resembled a mix of James Dean and Jack Kerouac — to what he became, “a seamy looking drugstore cowboy-cum-derelict,” as J. Hoberman put it in his Village Voice review."

Usa, 30'

Usa, 94'
John Derek, Elaine Stewart, Amanda Blake

Trivia from Wikipedia: "Playboy Playmates and pin-up models were cast in the female roles. Amanda Blake, 1955-1974 "Miss Kitty Russell" on Gunsmoke. Paul Picerni, 1959-1963 "Federal Agent Lee Hobson" on The Untouchables."

The 70th Venice International Film Festival, organized by La Biennale di Venezia,and  directed by Alberto Barbera, will run on Venice Lido from 28th August to 7th September 2013.

Ciao from Venezia,
Venetian Cat - The Venice Blog