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The Playlist

Venice '11 Review: Sono Sion's 'Himizu' Is Close To Unwatchable, And Yet Vitally Important

  • By Oliver Lyttelton
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  • September 6, 2011 7:50 AM
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  • 8 Comments
If you're after a quick response to recent events, particularly in the case of a cataclysmic disaster, cinema is not your medium. It takes years to write and develop even a bad script, let alone the financing, casting, shooting and pre-production of a film. And that's even without taking into account a reticence to address what has the potential to be traumatic material; there's a reason that it took half-a-decade for the events of 9/11 to reach the screen, and even then many believed that it was too soon for what some dismiss as mere entertainment to address such epoch-changing events.

Venice '11 Review: Mary Harron's 'The Moth Diaries' Is A Teen Vampire Tale Without Any Fangs

  • By Oliver Lyttelton
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  • September 6, 2011 6:09 AM
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  • 1 Comment
It's remarkably tough to get any film financed, at least one that doesn't have 3D talking animals from a popular cartoon series. So it's no surprise that some filmmakers, for all their best efforts, can go three, four, five or more years between pictures. Worryingly, it seems to be doubly true for female directors. Look at Kimberley Pierce, who's only made one film in the twelve years since "Boys Don't Cry," or Tamara Jenkins, for whom nearly a decade separated "Slums of Beverley Hills" and "The Savages," or even Kathryn Bigelow, who might be an Oscar-winner now, but had a six-year break before "The Hurt Locker." One of the key examples here is Mary Harron, who since her 1996 debut "I Shot Andy Warhol" had only made two other films: "American Psycho," and the biopic "The Notorious Bettie Page," the latter of which was five whole years ago. None of her films to date have been stellar, but she's always displayed more than enough filmmaking nous to make an upcoming Harron picture something to look forward to.

Venice '11 Review: 'Wuthering Heights' Is A Superb, Groundbreaking Adaptation Of The Classic Tale

  • By Oliver Lyttelton
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  • September 6, 2011 3:16 AM
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  • 2 Comments
One of the most exciting talents to emerge out of the U.K. in the last decade or so is Andrea Arnold. The former television presenter won an Oscar for her short film "Wasp" in 2005, and made her feature debut the following year with the powerful, gritty thriller "Red Road." 2009 saw her follow it up with another kitchen-sink type film, showcasing some incredible perfrmances, namely the drama "Fish Tank," which gathered even more acclaim, and allowed the director to make inroads internationally. Her choice of a third film raised some eyebrows, however: Arnold was selected to helm a long-in-the-works film version of Emily Brontë's "Wuthering Heights."

Venice '11 Review: 'Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy' Is A Remarkable, Quietly Devastating Spy Movie

  • By Oliver Lyttelton
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  • September 5, 2011 12:33 PM
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  • 11 Comments
The spy genre, is generally speaking, a euphemism for 'action movie' -- look at the explosions, fistfights and car chases of the Bond films, of the 'Mission: Impossible' series, of the 'Bourne' franchise, none of which have much in the way of actual tradecraft. The business of being a spy is hard, boring work, made up of listening and talking and without a lot of glamor. One of the men who best understands this is novelist John Le Carré, himself a former spy, who for close to half a century has been behind some of the most acclaimed literary examples of the genre. But aside from the much-loved "The Spy Who Came In From the Cold," and the more recent "The Constant Gardener" (the latter not strictly speaking an espionage picture), his works haven't had a huge amount of success on the big screen, lacking the speedboats and fireballs of Ian Fleming or Robert Ludlum. One of the writer's best-known books is "Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy," the first of the 'Karla' trilogy, which focuses on George Smiley, a middle-aged veteran of 'The Circus' (Le Carré's term for the British intelligence services) and his rivalry with his Soviet counterpart Karla. Working Title Films has spent the last couple of years on a new cinematic take with Tomas Alfredson, director of the much-acclaimed "Let the Right One In," making his English-language debut at the helm. It's no small undertaking, considering that the novel was previously adapted as a much-loved, seven-part, 290-minute BBC miniseries, headed up by an indelible performance from the great Alec Guinness. Alfredson might have assembled an all-star cast of British talent to bring the book to life, but could the company, led by Gary Oldman taking up Smiley's thick glasses, hope to match their predecessors? And could the film manage to keep the plot coherent and thrilling at a running time less than half of what the TV take had to play with?

Venice '11 Review: Todd Solondz's 'Dark Horse' Deconstructs Man-Child Comedies, Mostly Toothlessly

  • By Oliver Lyttelton
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  • September 5, 2011 3:18 AM
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  • 3 Comments
If there's one theme that's been prevalent -- nay omnipresent -- in American comedy (and some dramas) in the last half-decade or so, it's that of arrested development. The male (for they are usually male) who've been so coddled by parents, by society, by expectations, that they remain locked in a state of permanent adolescence. Forty is the new thirty. Thirty is the new twenty. Twenty is the new fourteen. Thematically, It's been everywhere from "Failure to Launch" and "The 40-Year-Old Virgin" to "Greenberg" and "Blue Valentine," and it might even apply to you. But at this point, is there anything new to say about the phenomenon?

Venice '11 Review: 'Shame' A Fascinating Follow-Up To 'Hunger,' With A Tour-De-Force From Fassbender

  • By Oliver Lyttelton
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  • September 4, 2011 11:57 AM
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  • 9 Comments
As English-language directorial debuts in the last few years go, Steve McQueen's "Hunger" ranks up there as one of the most uncompromising. An award-winning, sometimes controversial British artist, McQueen chose to move into feature film by examining the life of IRA hunger striker Bobby Sands, managing not to flinch from any of the grim details, using takes of up to 20 minutes in length, and showcasing a tour-de-force performance from the now firmly-planted-on-the-A-list Michael Fassbender. It picked up an enormous amount of critical support, including the Camera D'Or at Cannes in 2008, and signified both director and star as major talents to watch.

Venice '11 Review: Al Pacino's 'Wilde Salome' An Oddity Dominated By Titanic Jessica Chastain Turn

  • By Oliver Lyttelton
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  • September 4, 2011 2:57 AM
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  • 6 Comments
When did Alfredo James Pacino, Greatest Actor Of His Generation, turn into Shouty Al, Star Of "Righteous Kill" And "Jack and Jill"? The exact moment that the transformation took place is debatable, but it's hard to deny that, aside from some occasional good HBO work, Pacino has become a grotesque, bellowing inflation of former glories more often than not. But we live in hope that it's not a one way street, and that the star may find his way back to subtler movie work that he actually cares about. After all, he does, unlike many of his contemporaries, continue to return to the stage frequently, for much-praised performances, in the likes of "Orphans," "The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui" and, most recently, "The Merchant of Venice." And it's one of these stage turns that forms the center of Pacino's second film as director, "Wilde Salome," which like his debut "Looking For Richard," is a documentary examining one of his favorite plays, and the writer behind them.

Venice '11 Review: 'Persepolis' Follow-Up 'Chicken With Plums' Is Amiable & Pretty, But Twee & Thin

  • By Oliver Lyttelton
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  • September 3, 2011 5:12 AM
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  • 3 Comments
It can be difficult to shift from animation to live-action direction; the processes are very different, and even an accomplished animation helmer can sometimes be undone once they're faced with cameras, actors and the breakneck schedule of a feature film shoot, as opposed to the multi-year process that produces a feature cartoon. Some have managed it, Tim Burton being the most obvious example (at first, anyway...) and Pixar dons Brad Bird and Andrew Stanton are both hoping to make the leap in the next few months. But it's got to be even harder to go from working in graphic novels, to animation, to live-action, but that's been the path for Marjane Satrapi and Vincent Paronnaud in the last few years.

Venice '11 Review: 'Contagion' Is A Propulsive, Terrifying Picture With A Top-Notch Cast

  • By Oliver Lyttelton
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  • September 3, 2011 1:46 AM
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  • 5 Comments
Disaster -- an eternally popular obsession of film. Audiences have turned up in droves over the last century or so to watch mankind against their own extinction in the form of meteorites, earthquakes, alien invasions, exploding suns, planetary collisions, and whatever it was that was happening in "The Core." One of the more popular hypotheses is that when the end comes -- and it will -- it'll be not with a bang, but with a whimper. And that's what Steven Soderbergh has examined in "Contagion," his first studio film since 2007's "Ocean's Thirteen," that finds the spread of a deadly bird flu-type virus the source of man's demise.

Venice '11 Review: 'Alps' Another Unique & Remarkable Film From Director Yorgos Lanthimos

  • By Oliver Lyttelton
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  • September 2, 2011 9:45 AM
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  • 3 Comments
Until a couple of years ago, few outside his native Greece were aware of theater director-turned-filmmaker Giorgos Lanthimos. But when his third film, "Dogtooth," came from seemingly nowhere to win the top prize at Un Certain Regard at Cannes in 2009, it kicked off a process that's deservedly seen the helmer become one of the most closely-watched international filmmakers around. Other than a producing and acting role in the rather-less-good "Attenberg," he's been quietly working away on a follow-up, the pitch-black "Alps," which screened for the press here in Venice tonight. And the good news is, it's just as remarkable as his breakthrough.

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