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Michael Winterbottom (#110 of 8)

Tribeca Review: The Emperor’s New Clothes and Anesthesia

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Tribeca Review: <em>The Emperor’s New Clothes</em> and <em>Anesthesia</em>
Tribeca Review: <em>The Emperor’s New Clothes</em> and <em>Anesthesia</em>

Comedian-actor Russell Brand has, in the past few years, been focusing his energies more on political activism, even going so far as to launch a web series and publish a book to further his campaign of economic revolution. The Emperor’s New Clothes, his documentary collaboration with director Michael Winterbottom, suggests that he’s picked up a few tactics from Michael Moore, grandstanding stunts and all. But say what you will about Moore spending the entirety of Roger & Me trying to score an interview with the CEO of General Motors, or actually landing one with Charlton Heston at the end of Bowling for Columbine, one could argue that he evinces at least a hint of interest in hearing these people try to defend themselves. When Brand pulls a similar stunt in The Emperor’s New Clothes, driving around in a van with “Shop A Banker” printed on it, and trying to burst into the offices of major banks like HSBC and RBS in order to speak to the CEOs who run them, he gives no indication that he’s interested in open discourse. Instead of any sense of intellectual curiosity to add depth to his agreeably impassioned anger, there’s only a preaching-to-the-choir sense of foregone conclusions. Why bother asking questions when you already think you know the answers?

Toronto International Film Festival 2014 The Look of Silence, The Face of an Angel, & Miss Julie

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Toronto International Film Festival 2014: The Look of Silence, The Face of an Angel, & Miss Julie
Toronto International Film Festival 2014: The Look of Silence, The Face of an Angel, & Miss Julie

For all its acuity and innovation, The Act of Killing always risked emphasizing its groundbreaking method—crafting a psychological profile of two Indonesian mass murderers by making them reenact their crimes—at the expense of its most critical message: that the killers profiled in the doc were not only free men, but celebrated heroes in a country still run by people who, shortly after a 1965 military coup, helped murder somewhere between 500,000 and a million Indonesians accused of being communists. With the equally brilliant The Look of Silence, Joshua Oppenheimer risks no such misplaced focus.

Rendez-Vous with French Cinema 2011: Série Noire

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Rendez-Vous with French Cinema 2011: <em>Série Noire</em>
Rendez-Vous with French Cinema 2011: <em>Série Noire</em>

Série Noire, Alain Corneau’s seedy 1979 adaptation of Jim Thompson’s A Hell of a Woman, is considered by aficionados of Thompson’s work to be one of the best movies based on the bleak novelist’s work. Certainly, when compared to something like Michael Winterbottom’s recent adaptation of The Killer Inside Me, Corneau’s film stands apart, though largely because of its atonal sense of humor. Punch-drunk though Franck Poupart (Patrick Deware), Série Noire’s protagonist, may be, especially when compared to The Killer Inside Me’s Lou Ford, he’s ultimately just as desperate and manic. The key difference is that Lou Ford is almost a two-timing sadist while Franck Poupart is a sadist that thinks of himself as a masochist.

Toronto International Film Festival 2010: Miral, The Trip, Boxing Gym, & Amigo

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Toronto International Film Festival 2010: <em>Miral</em>, <em>The Trip</em>, <em>Boxing Gym</em>, & <em>Amigo</em>
Toronto International Film Festival 2010: <em>Miral</em>, <em>The Trip</em>, <em>Boxing Gym</em>, & <em>Amigo</em>

Miral: In an early passage, the owner of a Jerusalem home for orphans is asked if she’s ever been married. “No. But I have 2,000 daughters.” The line is right out of Goodbye, Mr. Chips, and, accordingly, Julian Schnabel’s multi-generational sprawler seldom ventures beyond that level of old-studio, spell-it-out earnestness. Chronicling the Palestinian cause from 1947 to 1994 as a mosaic of female solidarity and sorrow, it follows a thread started by Hiam Abbass’s compassionate matriarch and picked up by Yasmine Al Massri’s damaged odalisque and Ruba Blal’s nurse-turned-bomb-planter. Regrettably, the main torch bearer is an increasingly politicized schoolgirl who, as played by Frieda Pinto, creates a vacuum at the center of the screen. Scarcely known for the searching intellectual rigor this story cries for, Schnabel here also stumbles as a mercurial imagesmith, applying his usual stylistic flourishes (canted camera angles, solarized hues, Tom Waits dirges) to the narrative like smeary paint on glass. Paving the road to hell (or is it the Academy Awards?) with good intentions, it’s a middlebrow stew of distracting star cameos, stilted speechifying, and, in a particularly unwise move that bluntly calls attention to its deficiencies as a political-humanistic tract, references to The Battle of Algiers.

A Movie a Day, Day 35: The Killer Inside Me

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A Movie a Day, Day 35: <em>The Killer Inside Me</em>
A Movie a Day, Day 35: <em>The Killer Inside Me</em>

Even if it weren’t directed by Michael Winterbottom, I’d have gone to The Killer Inside Me just to see what gets people riled up over movie violence these days. The first question after it screened at Sundance was from an outraged woman who asked why the festival had shown it, and the discussion since has focused mainly on whether or not the film is unforgivably violent and misogynistic.

Well, I’ve seen it now, and I don’t understand the objections. No doubt, violence is too common and way too commonly sanctioned in our society. And yes, movies are partly to blame, since they’re a big part of the way we communicate with each other about violence—not to mention the way we exploit and glamorize it. But I believe movies are more a reflection than a cause of our love affair with violence, so our protests against movie violence are usually a matter of killing the messenger. That seems to be the case here.

Tribeca Film Festival 2010: The Killer Inside Me

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Tribeca Film Festival 2010: <em>The Killer Inside Me</em>
Tribeca Film Festival 2010: <em>The Killer Inside Me</em>

Writing in 1998 about the early films of British director Michael Winterbottom, critic Michael Atkinson described the filmmaker’s work as being “shot and cut like a heart attack.” He was referring to the “acidic, uncompromising” quality he found in Butterfly Kiss, Jude, and Welcome to Sarajevo, which he claimed made these exercises in overfamiliar genres “seem so new you feel as if you’re inventing them with your eyes, right now.” While, in the decade-plus since Atkinson’s article appeared, Winterbottom has continued to make startling, inventive films that often rethink familiar forms, there’s little in that critic’s evaluation that one could meaningfully apply to the director’s latest effort, The Killer Inside Me. Adapting Jim Thompson’s novel into a stylish if conventionally minded genre piece, Winterbottom’s period psychological thriller features two scenes of startling violence, but they’re far more unpleasant than shocking, light years from the meaningful jolts that enliven the best of his work.

Tribeca Film Festival 2010: My Brothers

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Tribeca Film Festival 2010: <em>My Brothers</em>
Tribeca Film Festival 2010: <em>My Brothers</em>

My Brothers, a coming-of-age tale set over Halloween weekend 1987 that follows three young siblings as they make their way to the Irish seaside to find a replacement watch for their dying father, on its surface bears all the hallmarks of a Shane Meadows film. So it’s no surprise that the movie marks the directorial debut of Paul Fraser, a frequent writing collaborator of Meadows. Unfortunately, like another Tribeca Film Festival selection, sex & drugs & rock & roll by Mat Whitecross, co-director of Michael Winterbottom’s The Road to Guantanamo, it’s also in dire need of the auteur half of the partnership at its helm.

Seventeen-year-old Noel, played with lovely nuance by novice actor Timmy Creed, sets Will Collins’s over-the-top script in motion when (in a metaphorical effort to stop time?) he takes a cheap watch from his half-conscious father’s wrist. He then gets in a fight, which leads to both the watch and his wrist being smashed. But because the sentimental trinket had been won at an arcade in Ballybunnion, Noel is then forced to find a way to get to the tiny town, which leads to his borrowing his employer’s bread van without permission. Unfortunately, though conveniently for the story, he can’t shift the vehicle’s gears with his injured hand, so he enlists the help of his pudgy, 11-year-old brother Paudie (Paul Courtney). Their seven-year-old, Star Wars-obsessed sibling Scwally (TJ Griffin) also comes along for the ride after threatening to tell their mum if they don’t take him with them.

Keith’s Korner: Confessions from the Editor (#2)

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Keith’s Korner: Confessions from the Editor (#2)
Keith’s Korner: Confessions from the Editor (#2)

First off, the unexpected: Premiere.com’s firing of senior staffer Glenn Kenny is another sad milestone in the ongoing purge of print publication journalists, though I think it helps us to see that the current situation extends beyond the borders of mere hard copy. That’s probably what makes it so distressing—it can’t be restricted to a certainty, to a specific sphere of influence, to anything, really, beyond an observation that tenure (and its benefits) is the vanishing commodity of the moment.