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Thursday, March 28, 2013


Distrib Films

The first trailer has been released for Becoming Traviata which has the following synopsis by Karen Cooper at NYC's Film Forum: "The reinvention of Verdi’s masterpiece, La Traviata, as sung by world-famous French coloratura soprano Natalie Dessay, is the subject of Philippe Béziat’s thrilling new movie.  A modern, minimalist, post-punk approach strips away the opulence and grandiosity associated with operatic productions. Concentrating on director Jean-François Sivadier’s working relationship with Dessay, the film reveals how two great creative minds build the story of a doomed love affair. The stars rehearse in what look like yoga outfits, on a bare stage, with minimal props. The final production, set against a backdrop of sky and clouds, punctuated by a single chandelier, features Violetta and Alfredo (a darkly gorgeous Charles Castronovo) as the very essence of hipster-chic. Their passion, however, is for the ages. With music performed by the London Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Louis Langrée."

It was an official selection of the 50th New York Film Festival and the trailer can be viewed here.  It will be released in NYC at Film Forum on May 15 and LA on May 24.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013


IFC Films
Simon Killer Review
2013, 105 minutes
Not Rated

Simon Killer is the new film from the team behind 2011's excellent Sundance hit Martha Marcy May Marlene and is written and directed by Antonio Campos.  It stars Brady Corbet as Simon, a New Yorker living in Paris after a break-up.  During the course of the film, Simon falls for a prostitute and his darker tendencies are revealed.  

This is a film that could have been superb, but really wasn't due to a variety of factors.  The biggest problem is that the film is extremely repetitive with an unsatisfying ending.  The movie literally seems to go nowhere.  There are only so many following shots and sex scenes that I can watch before I get bored.  The excessive amount of shots that follow Simon around give the film the feel of a student film. In addition, while much of the rest of the camerawork is good, some of the long takes do not work well because they slow down the story.  Michael Haneke used long takes to great effect in Amour, as did Steve McQueen in Shame, but in both of those stories, the directors wrote stories that needed to be told with extreme realism, thus justifying the use of long takes.  Campos' story is not compelling enough to use these, which leads me to another problem.  

Simon Killer should have been more twisted, more kinky, more violent.  A dark story such as this one needed some energy, a jolt of something crazy, to keep it from being bland.  There is certainly one scene that is kinky and bizarre, but there should have been more.  This film does not penetrate enough into the character of Simon or give him enough to do to make him interesting.

That being said, the acting, particularly by Brady Corbet as Simon, is superb.  Corbet captures the dark character of Simon perfectly.  This is a character that easily could have been overplayed, but Corbet's subtlety makes this a creepy, memorable portrayal.  

Much of this film's cinematography and the soundtrack are also great.  Aside from the repetitive nature of some of the shots, many of them are well-framed and beautifully lit with bright colors.  The electric soundtrack also makes some of the scenes in this bland film stand out.

Overall, Simon Killer is not a bad film.  It certainly isn't good, but it does have enough redeeming elements to keep it from being a complete failure.  I simply like a little more probing into characters and a more of a compelling story when viewing a movie.  Simon Killer will have a limited release on April 5.

-Joshua Handler

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Poster and Trailer for AND NOW A WORD FROM OUR SPONSOR

108 Media/Paladin

And Now a Word From Our Sponsor will be released on VOD May 6 and in theaters May 10.  It is directed by Zach Bernbaum and distributed by 108 Media/Paladin.  Click here for the trailer.

The synopsis is as follows: "Adan Kundle (Bruce Greenwood), CEO of a major advertising agency, is discovered unconscious in front of a wall of TVs. When he wakes in the hospital, Adan can only communicate through advertising slogans. There he meets Karen Hillridge (Parker Posey), the hospital’s Head of Charity Foundation, who has a past history with Adan.

Unable to stay in the hospital, and while waiting for long term care placement, Karen reluctantly decides to take Adan into her home for what is to be a few days. Through his ongoing and sometimes inappropriate slogans, Adan slowly begins to affect Karen and the dysfunctional relationship she has with her daughter Meghan (Allie MacDonald).

Karen gradually uncovers Adan’s background and his antagonistic business relationship with Lucas Foster (Callum Blue), the president of the advertising agency that Adan owns. As Lucas moves closer to taking over the agency by attacking Adan’s mental capacity, Adan becomes more involved in helping Karen and Meghan mend their relationship."

-Joshua Handler

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Spring Breakers Review

A24 Films
Spring Breakers Review
2013, 94 minutes
Rated R for strong sexual content, language, nudity, drug use and violence throughout

It is a miracle that a film this crazy got a wide release, but I am certainly glad it did.  Spring Breakers is wild, raunchy, disturbing, and fun.  Writer/director Harmony Korine made this beast with a cast that includes James Franco, Salena Gomez, Vanessa Hudgens, Ashley Benson, and Korine's wife, Rachel.  Every last person in this cast was completely game for Korine's twisted vision and carries it out with gusto.

Spring Breakers is the story of a group of four bored college girls (Gomez, Hudgens, Benson, and Korine) who want to "find themselves" and escape boring school life by going to Florida for Spring Break.  So, they rob the money they need to take their trip and go to Florida where they have sex, drink, do drugs, and get involved with a drug-dealing, weapons enthusiast rapper Alien (Franco).

What makes Spring Breakers unique is its willingness to show anything.  It has an abundance of nudity, kinky graphic sex, drug use, and violence, frequently mixed together.  The film has an insane energy to it and Korine structured the film so that it rarely stayed in one spot too long.  He cuts to future and past scenes in the middle of scenes occurring in the present and presents the film as a kind of fever dream.  The film was shot with mixed media by Benoît Debie, best known for shooting  Enter the Void.  Spring Breakers is lit with bright, beautiful neon colors which makes the film look fantastic.  

Clint Martinez (Drive, Contagion) scored the film and with his unique mixing of others' music with his own, he creates a soundtrack that emphasizes the craziness and dreaminess of Spring Break.  His score is very much like his score for Drive, dream-like and haunting, and the songs that he uses from others are in contrast, as much of them are dup-step.  This cranks up the energy level of the film.

Teens that are too young to view this film will see this as a promotion of sex, drugs, and drinking, but those old enough to understand Korine's social commentary will be rewarded.  During the film, the girls get involved with more and more illegal activities and descend lower and lower into the madness of Spring Break.  Korine shows that while on Spring Break, reality is completely shut out and all glimpses of normal society are nonexistent.  When college students are on Spring Break, they don't see that what happens during the break can have consequences on their regular lives and they will do anything to "find themselves".  College students on many campuses are restricted and therefore feel the need to rebel, and Spring Break is the perfect time for them to do so.  What they also don't realize is that Spring Break can get out of control and their idea of Spring Break and others' ideas of Spring Break can be dramatically different.  Korine shows the dark side of Spring Break.  As the movie progresses, the mood swings from light and fun to dark and violent.

Of the solid cast Korine put together to execute this film, James Franco and Selena Gomez really stand out.  Franco goes for broke as Alien.  He is absolutely hilarious and shows the dark side of one man's twisted American Dream.  Sporting teeth caps and corn rows, Franco is nearly unrecognizable in many scenes, completely transforming himself into Alien.  Selena Gomez plays Faith, a very religious girl who becomes overwhelmed by the debauchery occurring in Florida.  Her performance is understated and honest.  I see a very good career ahead for her.  The other three actresses turn in fine performances, but they are hard to judge because they really aren't required to do much.  

As great as this film is technically and as sharp as much of the commentary is, Spring Breakers has quite a few flaws.  The largest one that it becomes very repetitive.  There are only so many scenes of people drinking and doing drugs that I can see before becoming bored.  I got the point that Korine was trying to make, but after a while it became overkill.  Also, because of the unconventional nature of the narrative, some parts dragged and some of the substance of the film was lost.  One other major issue was that besides Gomez's character, the other three girls' characters were completely undeveloped which made me not care about them or have any interest in them at all.  While that very well may have been intentional, it did the movie no favors.  Without the emotional connection, my interest in the film waned.  

Overall, Spring Breakers is flawed, but very entertaining and unpleasant.  What makes this film so much more frightening is that while obviously this film is exaggerated, there is much of it that occurs every year in Florida over Spring Break.  Korine leaves the viewer with much to think about and succeeded in making something unlike anything I've ever seen before.

-Joshua Handler

Friday, March 22, 2013

Gravitas Ventures Takes Digital Rights to JUG FACE


Gravitas Ventures announced yesterday that they have acquired U.S. VOD rights to Jug Face, winner of the 2011 Slamdance Grand Prize Screenwriting Award.  It is a new horror-thriller written and directed by Chad Crawford Kinkle and starring Lauren Ashley Carter (The Woman), Sean Bridgers (Deadwood), Sean Young (Blade Runner), Larry Fessenden (I Sell the Dead) and Daniel Manche (The Girl Next Door).  Jug Face will be premiering in theaters later this summer after its pre-theatrical VOD release.  Modernciné is the company behind Jack Ketchum’s The Girl Next Door and the controversial film The Woman.  Modernciné’s president Andrew van den Houten says, “
Modernciné is proud to be pairing with Gravitas to release this incredibly original film by Chad Crawford Kinkle.  Gravitas understands how to release into the digital marketplace better than most distributors in the business.  We are confident that our theatrical release in conjunction with their heightened VOD release will give this unique film a chance to find a very large audience.”  Nolan Gallagher of Gravitas Ventures says, “We are thrilled to be collaborating with the Modernciné team on the undeniably unique Jug Face.  As longtime fans of horror films that break the mold, we are happy to follow the Pit's wishes and bring Jug Face to a mass VOD audience."
Gravitas Ventures gives the following plot summary: Ada, her family, and a small isolated backwoods community worship a mysterious pit.  The pit has the power to heal and protect all who honor it but at a deadly demands an occasional sacrifice.  The pit communicates through the local potter who, while in a trance, crafts ceramic jugs that carry the face of a person to be sacrificed to the entity that lives within it.  Ada has a secret about the latest jug face that she's determined to keep hidden but the pit demands a sacrifice and unleashes an evil onto the community until it gets who it really wants.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

A Hijacking ND/NF Review

photo via
A Hijacking Review
2013, 99 minutes
Rated R for language

Written and directed by Tobias Lindholm, A Hijacking is a master class in suspense and direction.  Picked up by Magnolia Films for U.S. distribution (no release date has been set yet), A Hijacking is the story of a ship that gets hijacked by Somali pirates and the negotiation process that takes place to save the ship’s crew.

A Hijacking is not entirely true, but is based in reality.  Director Tobias Lindholm said that he doesn’t believe the truth exists about the Indian Ocean hijackings, but if his film feels like it is about the people involved in the hijackings, he has succeeded. And Lindholm has succeeded.  What distinguishes A Hijacking from most other new thrillers based in reality are its subtlety and lack of cinematic flourishes.  Unlike the 2012 Best Picture-winner Argo (a good film in its own right), another true-life thriller, A Hijacking’s conclusion doesn’t resort to clichéd suspense techniques or a thundering score.  Instead, Lindholm chooses to use little to no music and grounds the finale in realism.  That isn’t to say that there is no emotion tied to it, there most certainly is, but it is the power of the actors’ faces that made me feel for them rather than a loud score and impressive camerawork. 

Lindholm made a couple of other very smart directorial choices when making this film: he used simple frame composition and camerawork, and he chose to show the negotiation process.  I suspect other directors would have simply shown what transpired on the ship, but Lindholm knows that without sensationalism, the story of the hijacked ship alone would be an exercise in boredom.  Depicting the negotiation process shows the stress that negotiators are under, in this case, the CEO (Søren Malling) of the company who owns the ship, and raises the stakes substantially.

In his scripting of the film, Tobias Lindholm seemed to make sure that every situation was plausible and that every scene was included in the film to propel it forward.  This helps keep the running time down to a brisk 99 minutes and makes viewing this film compelling.

The acting in A Hijacking is superb.  As the ship’s cook and one of the film’s lead characters, Mikkel Hartmann, Johan Philip Asbæk gives a powerful performance.  He shows much of his emotion in his face.  Needless to say, his performance is not showy and is so frighteningly realistic that I forgot that I was watching an actor.  As Peter C. Ludvigsen, the CEO, Søren Malling gives an intense performance of a man trying to keep strong under extreme stress.  He, like Hartmann, does not give a showy performance, but rather a restrained one.

Overall, A Hijacking is a masterful film; smart, economical, yet complex.  I was very impressed by the care and craft that was put into this film and would highly recommend that everyone see it when it shows during the New Directors/New Films Festival at the Walter Reade Theater on Friday, March 22 at 6:15 pm, and at the MoMA Titus 1 at 8:30 pm on Sunday, March 24.  Tickets are on sale now.

-Joshua Handler

Review also featured in the Washington Square News:

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Blue Caprice: ND/NF Review

Sundance Selects
Blue Caprice
2013, 93 minutes
Rated R for disturbing violent content, language and brief drug use

Review by Joshua Handler

Blue Caprice marks the feature film debut of Alexandre Moors and what a debut it is.  Blue Caprice tells the story of a man, John (Isaiah Washington in a powerhouse performance), who takes in a motherless boy, Lee (Tequan Richmond) in the Caribbean.  Upon returning to the United States, John loses his children to his ex-wife, and he begins to become disillusioned about America, prompting him to teach Lee how to use guns to go on a random killing spree.  This killing spree became known as the Beltway sniper attacks.  

R.F.I. Porto, the film's screenwriter, marks his feature film debut with Blue Caprice.  Porto does so many things right, but the most important was the choice to leave most of the violence off-screen and to show how a killer is made.  This film is a psychological study of two people and how one can be convinced to commit heinous crimes through manipulation and brainwashing.

The performances by Washington and Richmond are really impressive.  Washington, an actor who has acted in an extensive amount of films, is amazing.  He is intense and builds a character who becomes more and more unhinged and disillusioned as time goes on.  Tequan Richmond, on the other hand, has not had a large career yet, however I expect this to change after people see his performance in this film. Richmond has very little dialogue in this film, but that only makes his performance more frightening.  At the beginning of the film, his character, Lee, is orphaned when his mother leaves him.  A boy with no one around and no food in the refrigerator, Lee has lost faith in everything until John takes him in and becomes like a father to him.  Richmond expertly shows the troubled nature of this young man with his face.  Throughout the film, Lee changes and Richmond shows the humanity behind this boy who became a monster.

Blue Caprice is Alexandre Moors feature film debut.  It is amazing to me that a movie this controlled and disturbing is the work of a newcomer.  Every shot seems carefully planned and the pace of the film is even.  The film does not build to a shocking, explosive conclusion.  It does, however, end powerfully, and only a talented director could make it work, and Moors does.  If Blue Caprice is as widely seen as it should be, Moors' talents will be recognized and he will have quite the career ahead of him.

My one small issue with this film is that while the climax of the film is disturbing, it should have been more powerful.  The ending is certainly powerful, but what precedes it should have been maybe a bit more exciting.  While one of this film's virtues is its lack of sensationalization, it could have been more dramatic at the climax.  That being said, this does not detract much from this otherwise excellent film.

Overall, Blue Caprice is a really impressive debut film that will be opening New Directors/New Films tomorrow night.  This film has no release date yet, so go see it.

-Joshua Handler

Friday, March 15, 2013

Reality Review

Oscilloscope Laboratories
Reality Review
2013, 110 minutes
Rated R for some language

Winner of the 2012 Grand Prix at the Cannes Film Festival, Reality is the new film by Matteo Garrone, best known for his crime drama Gomorrah which also won the Grand Prix at the 2008 Cannes Film Festival.  Reality follows the story of Luciano (Aniello Arena), a fishmonger who lives in a small Italian town with his wife and kids and how he becomes obsessed with trying to get on reality TV after he auditions for a show.

The standout aspect of this film is the amazing performance by Aniello Arena.  Arena has been in jail for 20 years serving a life sentence for murder.  In Italy, there are some acting troupes that consist of prisoners (the entire cast of the Taviani brothers' Caesar Must Die were prisoners) and Arena belongs to one of those troupes.  According to Garrone, he wanted Arena to star in Gomorrah, but a judge wouldn't allow it.  Instead, Garrone got Arena for Reality.  He would work on set in the day and go back to jail in the night.  Arena has a charm to him that is not unlike Christoph Waltz.  Luciano is a very sympathetic character, even after he begins to obsess over the TV show.  At heart, he is a good man who only wants the best for his family and Arena expresses this perfectly.  It was scary to see that Arena committed murder.  Arena's story is truly inspirational, as it is one of second chances, and one of a life turnaround.  

The opening to Reality is one of the best I've seen in a while.  It is a very long take of the camera zooming in from afar onto a wedding carriage and following it to its destination.  The shot that Garrone set up is incredibly complicated and only a master craftsman could have pulled that off.  A substantial amount of the film is shot in long takes, but these long takes are not like Haneke long takes.  Garrone's long takes involve inventive camera movement and show something that will move the story forward, unlike Haneke who keeps the camera stationary to show a slice of life.  Technically, Reality is superbly made.

According to Garrone, the story for Reality is true.  It is based off of his brother-in-law who became obsessed with getting on a reality TV show.  The story of this film is nothing earth-shatteringly new, drags a little, and could have possibly used a bit more of a punch at the end, but it is told very well through Garrone's smart directional decisions, some very funny scenes, and Arena's masterful performance.  

Overall, Reality is a really good film that should be seen.  It is very entertaining, dark, and well-crafted. If there is any reason to see this film at all, it is for Arena.  Few actors could have performed the role of Luciano the way he did.  It is very hard to make a character so crazy and obsessive so likable, but somehow Arena did.  

-Joshua Handler

Monday, March 4, 2013

Beyond the Hills Review

Sundance Selects

Beyond the Hills Review
2013, 150 minutes
Not Rated 

Cristian Mungiu's follow-up to his Palme d'Or-winning masterpiece 4 Months, 3 Weeks, and 2 Days, is one of the most powerful, disturbing, and provocative indictments of a modern-day society that you are likely to see.  Beyond the Hills follows two young women, Voichita and Alina (Cosmina Stratan and Cristina Flutur, respectively, in their film acting debuts), who go separate ways after being roommates in an orphanage in rural Romania.  Voichita stayed by the orphanage and became a nun, while Alina moved to Germany.  The two have been lovers since their days at the orphanage.  One day, Alina decides to return to her home village and stay with Voichita at the monastery causing tension.  This film is based on a true story, which makes it all the more disturbing

Mungiu's film focuses on the tensions between the modern world and conservative religion in modern-day Romania.  His script deservedly won the Best Screenplay award at the 2012 Cannes Film Festival. It is never contrived, is always compelling, and frighteningly realistic.  Mungiu's 4 Months, 3 Weeks, and 2 Days was a scary view of communist Romania, and Beyond the Hills is the perfect complement.  It shows communism's effects on the country and is a scathing critique of the Orthodox Church.  In this story, the Church and modern society cannot coexist.  Voichita and Alina's romance is the first aspect of their lives that doesn't fit into the church.  The priest explicitly makes a statement about how disturbed he is by homosexuality.  Mungiu also takes on the Romanian Orthodox Church's by accusing them of brainwashing their devoted members (the nuns).  When Alina sees Voichita once again, she is frightened by what a changed person her old friend and lover is.  Voichita is no longer the same Voichita that Alina knew.  She is now a product of the church.  

Because Mungiu also directed this film, he is able to keep control over it.  He uses extremely long takes to slow down the already slow pace of the film, but this slow pace complements the movie as it adds to the extreme realism.  The first half of the film keeps a languid pace, mainly to build and develop relationships between characters.  The second half is still languid, but has moments and sequences of intensity to the point that I almost had my mouth open in amazement.

The extreme realism is further heightened by the superb performances by the entire cast from Stratan and Flutur down to the priest and the nuns.  Stratan and Flutur won a double Best Actress award at the Cannes Film Festival last year for their performances.  They are revelations.  They are completely restrained and have a substantially smaller amount of dialogue than any actress in most other films.  But, what they do not say, they show.  As the film nears its intense climax, their talents are really showcased as pain and agony become the prominent emotions.  Each actress shows pain in a way that few actresses can.  When watching Stratan and Flutur together, I completely forgot that I was watching a movie.  Beyond the Hills never feels like a movie and is never meant to be a piece of entertainment.  This is the least entertaining, but most enriching film to have come along in quite a while.

Overall, Beyond the Hills is another masterpiece from one of the greatest living directors.  Mungiu has once again provided us with a daring critique of Romanian society that manages to inform as well as thrill and horrify.  This is definitely not going to be a film for everyone, but those that are willing to sit through it will be amply rewarded.

-Joshua Handler