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Frozen River (#110 of 5)

New York Film Festival 2011: Le Havre

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New York Film Festival 2011: <em>Le Havre</em>
New York Film Festival 2011: <em>Le Havre</em>

Back in May, when my Slant colleague Glenn Heath Jr. saw Aki Kaurismäki’s latest film, Le Havre, at Cannes, he called it “a dim reflection of more substantial earlier work” and that, while it certainly is “sweet, relevant, and occasionally moving,” it “reveals a talented director recycling the same ideas without evolving beyond the expected.”

As someone who went into Le Havre not having seen any of Kaurismäki’s work, though, it played differently—and more positively—to me. If this film is indeed “once more around the block” for this director, then allow me to pool some general impressions I get from this initial encounter with Kaurismäki’s brand of working-class humor.

Visually speaking, this is a very “blue” movie—as in, blue-ish shades seem to dominate shots of both interiors and exteriors (courtesy of cinematographer Timo Salminen). This is especially apparent during the nighttime scenes, of which there are many in this film. The last time I saw nighttime scenes captured with such evocative attention to blue tones was with Barry Sonnenfeld’s cinematography for the Coens’ Blood Simple, but the images in that film were meant to be menacing, whereas the visuals in Le Havre come off as an oddball mix of realism and whimsy.

Tribeca Film Festival 2009: Don McKay

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Tribeca Film Festival 2009: <em>Don McKay</em>
Tribeca Film Festival 2009: <em>Don McKay</em>

Clearly a quiet and lonely man, Don McKay (Thomas Haden Church) sluggishly scrubs the paint off a high school art class’s floor, with a loser shrug affixed to his face. He’s employed in janitorial services, and this being a not-too-stirring existence, he jumps at the chance to go back to his hometown after receiving a letter from a cancer-stricken first love, Sonny (Elisabeth Shue), who beckons his return. Upon arriving at her childhood home, Don is greeted by a suspiciously tidy, anal-retentive maid, Marie (Melissa Leo), who has been Sonny’s caretaker since the cancer spread. When Don finally sees Sonny, still marvelously angelic, his eyes widen in glee as fond memories are recalled, but Don McKay is no glorious reunion story, as this town and girl he once knew belie a much deeper, far-reaching truth than the artificial welcoming party may let on.

Oscar 2009 Winner Predictions Original Screenplay

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Oscar 2009 Winner Predictions: Original Screenplay
Oscar 2009 Winner Predictions: Original Screenplay

For writing that hinges on indulgent exposition, leaden metaphor, painful grade-school symbolism, and cliché characterization, Courtney Hunt is now an Oscar nominee thanks to the same AMPAS voters who don’t recoil into the fetal position at the sound of actors reading aloud from a Paul Haggis screenplay. That’s a pretty significant bloc of the academy, but we’re guessing there’s a considerable overlap of fans between Frozen River and the smarmy In Bruges, which was quickly forgotten after opening in early February but has built a sizeable cult following since then and is now riding high off Golden Globe and BAFTA fumes. Of course, it’s rare for a screenplay to win here without also being nominated for Best Picture, so don’t bet on In Bruges taking this one unless you also think six-time Oscar nominee Mike Leigh will be given a chance to wax cynically—and justifiably so—about his improvisational style of writing and Happy-Go-Lucky’s egregious snub in the Best Actress category. Dustin Lance Black, the openly gay ex-Mormon who writes for HBO’s Big Love, should have had this one in the bag, especially after his Writers Guild of America victory, but Black didn’t have to contend with WALL-E for that award. Critically and financially, WALL-E benefits from being the most successful film in this category, but we’re of the opinion that the same blue-haired types who confuse Most Editing for Best Editing will feel somewhat uneasy—and mistakenly so—about voting for a film that’s written in chirps and beeps for a significant portion of its running time, even if they do prefer WALL-E to Milk at the end of the day.

Notes from the 34th Seattle International Film Festival - Dispatch One

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Notes from the 34th Seattle International Film Festival - Dispatch One
Notes from the 34th Seattle International Film Festival - Dispatch One

The 34th Seattle International Film Festival gets underway this Thursday, May 22. The press screenings, however, commence nearly a month before. For this first dispatch, I’ve set out to record my day-to-day impressions of what I was seeing, witnessing, experiencing on screen.

New Directors/New Films 2008

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New Directors/New Films 2008
New Directors/New Films 2008

Now in its 37th year, the annual New Directors/New Films series kicks off tonight with a screening of the Sundance Film Festival prizewinner Frozen River. The schedule for the following week-and-a-half (closing night: Sunday, April 6th) is an outwardly eclectic mix of subjects, though whispers from several festival-fatigued colleagues suggest there’s a lot of same-ol’-same-ol’ chaff among the needle-in-the-haystack wheat—a par for the course reaction as far as these things go, helpful only in pointing up the ease with which cinephilic passion becomes masochistic drudgery. I attended only three press screenings (one of these was for a film I had seen several times before), but that was enough to glean something of a linking theme: the symbolic weight of one’s home/homeland, literally evident via the plantations that figure as central locales in Eat, for This Is My Body and Moving Midway, and more figuratively explored via the cluttered downtown Manhattan loft (a repository for several characters’ perpetually resonant memories and inescapably present-tense hang-ups) in Momma’s Man. Such an observation runs the risk of reducing the New Directors series to some kind of singular, bastardized essence. No doubt the many writers who contributed to this festival preview (heroes all of ’em) would beg to add their own perspective, and that they have done in the entries below (all told, eleven of the series’s twenty-six features are reviewed). Consider the result less a consumer’s guide than a signpost marking a moment—use our collected observations to journey where you will. Keith Uhlich