The Playlist

Berlin Review: River Phoenix's Last Film 'Dark Blood' A Serviceable Movie, But A Fascinating Project

  • By Jessica Kiang
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  • February 16, 2013 11:17 AM
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  • 1 Comment
River Phoenix died at in 1993 at just 23 years of age, and to a certain generation of then-teenage movie fans, of whom this writer was one, it was maybe the first of that kind of celebrity death, the kind you remember where you were when you heard about it. I was in a car with my mom, and I recall the radio report ended with a mention of Federico Fellini's death the same day (at 73 the Italian director, despite his greatness, was always going to be the Farrah Fawcett to Phoenix's Michael Jackson in the coincidental celebrity death stakes). Now 20 years on, the Berlin Film Festival is showing Phoenix's last film, "Dark Blood," by Dutch director George Sluizer (the original "The Vanishing" and his vastly inferior American remake) in unfinished form, and it makes for surprisingly thought-provoking viewing.

Berlin Review: Animated 'The Croods' Sacrifices Story & Character On Altar Of Impressive 3D Visuals

  • By Jessica Kiang
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  • February 15, 2013 2:00 PM
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  • 11 Comments
We suspect our reaction may be out of step with the general consensus of press at our Berlin Film Festival screening of the "The Croods" today, if the guffaws and applause were anything to go by, but really that had us kind of baffled. The DreamWorks film, from writer/directors Chris Sanders ("How to Train Your Dragon," "Lilo & Stitch") and Kirk Di Micco ("Space Chimps"), features a starry voice cast in Nicolas Cage, Emma Stone, Ryan Reynolds, Catherine Keener, Cloris Leachman and Clark Duke, and an appropriately high concept: the Croods are a family of cavemen who have to evolve suddenly when faced with cataclysmic natural disasters and the arrival of a young Homo Sapiens with the ability to make fire.

Berlin Interview: Ethan Hawke & Julie Delpy On Jesse And Celine & The Making Of Linklater’s ‘Before’ Trilogy

  • By Jessica Kiang
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  • February 15, 2013 11:11 AM
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  • 3 Comments
It will surprise no one who followed the film’s extremely positive reception at Sundance earlier this year, that Richard Linklater's “Before Midnight” (our review here) has been creating quite a stir on the other side of the pond following its European premiere at the Berlin Film Festival. With many of the journalists we met citing the film as one of their favorite of the festival so far, we got to sit down in a small group with stars and co-writers Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke for what proved to be a fairly riotous interview, in which, while they both maintain repeatedly how unlike their onscreen counterparts they are, certainly the chemistry of old friends was there in spades.

Berlin Review: Giuseppe Tornatore's 'The Best Offer' Is A Campy, Overcooked Mess

  • By Jessica Kiang
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  • February 14, 2013 11:04 AM
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  • 14 Comments
If director Giuseppe Tornatore has had an up-and-down time of it since his breakthrough, 1988's almost universally adored, Oscar-winning "Cinema Paradiso," it has to be said that his most recent film, "The Best Offer," marks a definite low point, even as one of the downs. But that's probably what's going to happen when you take a cast, including Geoffrey Rush, Jim Sturgess and Donald Sutherland, that mostly seems as though they don't belong on the same planet, let alone in the same film, stick them in a pointlessly convoluted plot that's ludicrously unbelievable from start to finish, and drench the whole lot in a hysterically screechy score from Ennio Morricone. The resulting film is such a campy mess that for a while it's possible to see it having some sort of life as a kitsch cultish artifact, like an overplotted TV movie from the eighties. But then it goes on for an interminable 124 minutes, and even that dubious hold on our interest is lost.

Berlin Review: Ken Loach's 'The Spirit Of 45' An Effective But Conservatively Presented Doc About Radical Social Change

  • By Jessica Kiang
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  • February 14, 2013 10:02 AM
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  • 0 Comments
British filmmaker Ken Loach has never been one to hide his politics. In fact the throughline to his long, exemplary career, whether on TV or in theaters, whether documentary or narrative, whether small-scale domestic drama (“Sweet Sixteen,” “Kes,” “Ladybird, Ladybird”) or sweeping historical epic (“The Wind that Shakes the Barley,” “Land and Freedom”), has always been one of social awareness and overtly left-wing sensibilities. His characters are often working class people chafing against the injustice and disenfranchisement of their societal roles in the face of powerful contemporary or historical forces. And nowhere is this more in evidence than in his latest film, documentary “The Spirit of ‘45,” which details the rise and fall of the British welfare state: the post-war socialist program of social reform and nationalization of industry, and the subsequent partial or total dismantling of these moves under Thatcher.

Berlin Review: 'Interior. Leather Bar' Is A Surprisingly Successful James Franco Experiment On Male Sexuality & Filmic Process

  • By Jessica Kiang
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  • February 12, 2013 3:43 PM
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  • 2 Comments
So let's clear up a few misconceptions about this film -- and of course there are misconceptions, it's a James Franco project. In fact it's the third title to boast his involvement at this Berlin Film Festival (after "Lovelace" and "Maladies"), but here he is pulling double duty as co-director with Travis Matthews, and performer, as himself (kinda). Firstly, "Interior. Leather Bar" is not a recreation/reimagining of the "censored," never-shown 40 minutes from William Friedkin's "Cruising," nor even footage inspired by that missing footage. Instead it's a semi-scripted, hour-long documentary about the production of that reimagined footage, in which much less of the actual recreated footage appears than the stories around its making, the concept behind it and the utterly self-conscious, self-referential approach. Hope you're still with us?

Berlin Review: Jane Campion's 'Top Of The Lake' A Satisfying & Cinematic Crime "Novel" In The Shape Of A TV Show

  • By Jessica Kiang
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  • February 12, 2013 11:58 AM
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  • 2 Comments
Taking the concept of binge-watching to a whole new theatrical level, we were lucky enough to spend most of our Sunday at the Berlin Film Festival in a large auditorium consuming Jane Campion’s six-hour “Top of the Lake” TV series, which will air in seven episodes on The Sundance Channel starting March 18th. It was a great experience, and not just because of the quality storytelling and filmmaking on display, but because of the sense of community and buzz you get at this type of event. We saw the show divided into three two-hour chunks, and during the brief intermissions, the audience buzzed with speculation: who was the father of the unborn child? Was X dead or alive? What was the significance of Y?

Berlin Review: Wonderful 'Gloria' An Inspired Feat Of Writing, Direction & Performance

  • By Jessica Kiang
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  • February 11, 2013 11:57 AM
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  • 1 Comment
Produced by rising Chilean force-to-be-reckoned-with Pablo Larraín ("Post Mortem," "No"), Sebastián Lelio's fourth feature, "Gloria," has proven one of our most pleasant Berlin Film Festival surprises. While films focusing on female protagonists have not been in short supply during this and previous Berlinales, many of them featuring strong central performances and a realist style, Santiago-set "Gloria" is marked out by two key differences that set it apart from, and above, many surface-similar films.

Berlin Review: James Franco-Starring 'Maladies' Maroons A Dream Indie Cast In A Wasteland Of Tiresome Self-Indulgence

  • By Jessica Kiang
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  • February 11, 2013 11:03 AM
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  • 4 Comments
Carrying the dubious distinction of being a film that managed to try our patience after just five minutes, “Maladies” is for us best summed up in one word: wasteful. It is wasteful of the considerable talents of a fabulous cast, wasteful of a pleasingly off-kilter visual approach, and wasteful of our time. It is even wasteful of a director whose instincts, no matter how much he may want to kick against them, seem to lie more in the direction of the kind of classical, straightforward story he is at pains here to not give us.

Berlin Review: Biopic 'Lovelace' Oddly Uninterested In Linda Lovelace

  • By Jessica Kiang
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  • February 9, 2013 7:41 PM
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  • 3 Comments
Not so much a film about Linda Lovelace as a film about a bunch of things that happen to Linda Lovelace, including a destructive marriage to seeming complete, total, bonafide scumbag sonofabitch Chuck Traynor, today saw the first international screening of Sundance pick-up “Lovelace” at the Berlin Film Festival. It’s a glossy, starry package featuring loving '70s set design, costuming and narratively crucial hairstyling (more on that later), but the main question was always around the casting of the leading lady, especially given that the last few years have seen a flurry of names come and go from both this and rival Lovelace project “Inferno” (which famously once boasted Seyfried’s “Mean Girls” co-star Lindsay Lohan).

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