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Blood Simple (#110 of 3)

Berlinale 2012 The Captive, Flowers of War, Sister, Jayne Mansfield’s Car, & Meteora

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Berlinale 2012: The Captive, Flowers of War, Sister, Jayne Mansfield’s Car, and Meteora
Berlinale 2012: The Captive, Flowers of War, Sister, Jayne Mansfield’s Car, and Meteora

Berlinale, the most smoothly run of all major festivals, is a pleasure for the Anglophone. Everybody speaks English and most of the non-English-language films have English subtitles rather than German. However, this Anglo-centricism seems to be creeping into several films here, among those from the Philippines, China and Switzerland, which suffer from the misguided idea that they would attract a wider audience, especially an American one.

English is the lingua franca of Brillante Mendoza’s The Captive, which seems to have been directed by his younger brother, Mediocre Mendoza. Based on a true story of the kidnapping of a group of tourists and Christian missionaries by a group of armed men belonging to a militant Islamist group, it fails the first principal of a disaster movie: identification with the victims. Except for Isabelle Huppert, as one of the missionaries, they’re an anonymous lot. Only toward the end of a long two hours, during which we are subjected to what can be called “wobblyscope”—jerky handheld camerawork intending to give the story the immediacy of a documentary, relieved only a few times by a crane shot or two—is there a feeble attempt to get Huppert to relate to one of her captors, a 15-year-old soldier. Mendoza seems to think that it’s enough to present the hardships the victims suffered in the Philippine jungle at the hands of Islamist fanatics without any overarching viewpoint.

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.

Take Two #14: The Ladykillers (1955) & The Ladykillers (2004)

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Take Two #14: <em>The Ladykillers</em> (1955) & <em>The Ladykillers</em> (2004)
Take Two #14: <em>The Ladykillers</em> (1955) & <em>The Ladykillers</em> (2004)

[Editor’s Note: Take Two is an occasional series about remakes, reboots, relaunches, ripoffs, and do-overs in every cinematic genre.]

True Grit has been rightfully celebrated for the last few months, though few critics have expressed the appropriate surprise at how well this remake turned out. Lest we forget, the last time the Coen brothers remade someone else’s movie, they churned out their unquestionable worst, a juvenile reimagining of Alexander Mackendrick’s scabrous Ealing comedy The Ladykillers. Technically, True Grit is less a movie remake than a second try at filming the wonderful Charles Portis source novel, but the irony here is that the Coens’ Ladykillers is a more ambitious, clever concept for a film than their admittedly beautiful western. Alas, the movie itself is utterly half-assed, the only time that can be said of a Coen brothers picture.

The Mackendrick film’s plot and imagery both rely on the timely, English steam trains that always seem to be within earshot of the action, and the Coens found a wonderful cultural-historical parallel by setting the new movie along the Mississippi River. It was equally thoughtful to cast Tom Hanks, a kind of American Alec Guinness, to play the Guinness role, particularly since both actors clearly relish every ludicrous line of dialogue as they play scheming villains against type. And the occasional performance scenes of a black gospel choir are some of the most purely joyful, documentary moments in any Coen brothers film. But the filmmakers apparently made a few excellent artistic decisions and then phoned everything else in.