Weekend Roundup: Ex Machina, more Daredevil, BORGIA (2011) & a new obsession

I thought I’d take a bit of a break from MSPIFF to give you a bit of a rundown of how last week’s been going so far, which is perhaps one of my favorite weeks so far in terms of movie-viewing.

In case you’re wondering what those three movies are… well, I’ve reviewed two of them: Clouds of Sils Maria, Girlhood and the third one is Ex Machina, which turned out to be even better than I expected.

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It’s also cool to have Ex Machina‘s director Alex Garland actually answered my question hours before I saw the screening, thanks to IMDb’s Twitter Q@A using the hashtag #ExMachinaChat.

This is Garland’s directorial debut and it’s certainly one of the best sci-fis dealing with the ‘what does it mean to be human’ theme. Visually it looks cool and the story is genuinely thought-provoking. I’ll review that when MSPIFF is over, but if you haven’t seen it yet, l can’t recommend it enough!


I also saw more episodes of Netflix’s Daredevil, we only have two more episodes to go and the waiting for second season will be agonizing! Man, episode 10 and 11 were especially phenomenal. I love the Nelson vs Murdock one as it showed the back story of how they’ve become friends since becoming room mates in law school. It’s an emotionally-gratifying and revelatory episode whilst the action scene continues to be as phenomenal as ever.

Daredevil_ep10_11The spirituality aspect of Matt Murdock’s story is intriguing as it’s perhaps the first superhero who’s faith is integral in his role and the show doesn’t shy away from it. I find the dialog between Matt and his priest/personal confidant and their discussion about whether the devil truly walks amongst earth fascinating and insightful in terms of the protagonist’s motivations. Nice to see Claire (Rosario Dawson) making an appearance again in episode 11: The Path of the Righteous. I’ve always found Charlie Cox to be a gorgeous Brit but he looks REALLY good on this show, and he’s clearly worked out a lot for this role, ehm. I LOVE Claire’s comment about seeing Matt shirtless again. Amen to that, sista 😉


Speaking of REALLY gorgeous man… I have a new obsession… some of you on Twitter might’ve noticed it 😉 It happened almost instantly when I saw Not Another Happy Ending precisely two weeks ago and ever since then I have watched that Scottish rom-com over a dozen times, I think that’s a record!

NotAnotherHappyEnding_CafeNotAnotherHappyEnding_finaleI will have to do a Stanley Weber appreciation post at some point, he’s the first French actor I’ve ever had a massive crush on … as you know I almost always go for the Brits. But the second I beheld his c’est magnifique physique (and THAT irresistible wavy hair!) and heard him speak, I was a goner [le sigh] My penchant for the criminally-underrated AND the unjustifiably-obscure actors continues… why hasn’t Hollywood discover him yet? Come on!!!

Ehm, now that I got that out of the way …. inspired by Margaret’s awesome list post of cinematic/TV gems she saw because of her actor’s crushes, I just might have to do one of my own. One of those gems is definitely this Canal+ production of BORGIA, not to be confused with Showtime’s The Borgias that’s also about the notorious Italian family in the 15th and 16th century. This is the one created by Tom Fontana (Homicide, HBO’s Oz) with John Doman as Rodrigo Borgia.

BORGIA_Canal+BORGIA_JuanBorgiaStanley plays one of Rodrigo’s son, Juan. I’ve only seen four episodes so far and oh boy, Juan Borgia is one naughty, naughty boy. Basically his character is a psychopath and a sexual predator, which is completely different role from what I’ve seen him in Not Another Happy Ending. The entire BORGIA clan is morally bankrupt all around, and the actors portray them VERY well. The most infamous chapter of the history of the Catholic church certainly made for some fascinating historical drama.


What I’m looking forward to this week:

WaterDivinerScreeningBeen waiting to see Russell Crowe’s directorial debut for ages.
I first posted the trailer here over a year ago!


So that’s what I’ve been watching & obsessing about. What about you?

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MSPIFF 2015 Review: Clouds of Sils Maria

CloudsOfSilsMariaAt first glance, the film sounds like another commentary on the state of the entertainment industry. But it’s a rarity to see a complex female character at the center of it, and the film benefited from three excellent performances by Juliette Binoche, Kristen Stewart, Chloë Grace Moretz. An unlikely trio to be sure, yet each brings such authenticity to their character and they keep the film grounded despite the sometimes aimless wandering of Olivier Assayas‘ direction.

Binoche plays an international film star Maria Enders who’s at the peak of her career. She reluctantly accepts a role in a revival play, Maloja Snake, that made her famous twenty years earlier. Back then she played the role of Sigrid, a young girl who has an intense but eventually catastrophic with her much older female boss, Helena. Of course this time Maria’s asked to play Helena, which brings some sort of internal crisis as she grapples with the dark themes of the play, as well as the issue of aging and the shift of entertainment landscape in general. The dialog between Binoche and Stewart who plays her dedicated personal assistant Valentine are revelatory and amusing, I enjoy the honesty and frankness of their relationship. Val seems to understand Maria more than she’s given credit for, and despite their sometimes prickly banters, they obviously have a strong bond together.

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Some have compared the story to Birdman and All About Eve and they do share similar themes, but there’s enough uniqueness in the protagonist’s journey and relationship. Moretz’s character Jo-Ann, a Lindsay-Lohan type starlet who’s talented but self-destructive is fascinating, as you could say that it resembles Stewart who was quite the tabloid fodder during her Twilight years. During a rather hilarious conversation where Val’s trying to convince Maria that there’s more to Jo-Ann and her seemingly shallow sci-fi character, I couldn’t help but think of Stewart herself. This could very well be Stewart’s answer to the naysayers (me included) that she could act, that she’s more than just a ball of nerves who can’t stop fidgeting. I have to say that she succeeded with this role and she earned her groundbreaking César award.

I read on IMDb that the film’s premise was Binoche’s idea, she pitched that to writer/director Olivier Assayas and he wrote a script with the idea. So no wonder Binoche was perfect in the role of Maria and no doubt it’s a character the international film star herself could relate to. Even at 51, she’s still as stunning as her much younger co-stars. There’s a certain self-assuredness as well as raw vulnerability in Maria that Binoche captured perfectly. She’s frustrating at times but never irritating, at least not to me. There are also some humorous moments when she googled Jo-Ann and was shocked/amused by all her shenanigans captured by paparazzi.

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The film is shot 35-mm film and it’s simply stunning. It can practically serves as a travel video to the Swiss Alps, especially the resort town St Moritz. The Maloja Snake refers to the thick white low-lying cloud formation that *slithers* its way along the mountainsides and it’s captured beautifully on screen. The classically-tinged score is lovely too, it’s definitely the kind of music I enjoy and it fits the mood and tone of the film well. I’m really glad I saw this on the big screen and it’s become one of my favorites of the year. There are some slow moments and the ending dragged on a bit, but for the most part I was quite engrossed in the story. It’s rare to see such a well-developed, female-centric dramas these days, so kudos to Assayas for writing/directing one that also feels authentic. But the stars truly belong to both Binoche and Stewart, especially the latter who’s able to convince me that she’s an actress worth writing about.

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Have you seen Clouds of Sils Maria? Well, what did you think?

MSPIFF 2015 is here once again! April 9-25: 17 days, 250+ films!

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The Film Society kicked off the 2015 Minneapolis St. Paul International Film Festival last Thursday with the Opening Presentation, The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared (actor Cory Peterson attending). This hilarious Swedish comedy, the highest grossing film in the country’s history, launches 17 days of more than 250 remarkable films, visiting filmmakers, exciting parties, and enlightening panel discussions.

I’ve said this before but really, I’m fortunate to live in a city that has TWO film festivals, one in Spring and the other (TCFF) in Autumn, two of my favorite seasons! Founded in 1962, The Film Society of Minneapolis St. Paul is Minnesota’s foremost film exhibition organization, and a 501(c)(3) non-profit. We bring the best of international and independent film to Minnesota audiences through the Minneapolis St. Paul International Film Festival, numerous niche film festivals and series, and nightly programming 365-days a year.

Check out the awesome MSPIFF official trailer:

One of the exciting 2015 programs of MSPIFF is that the Women and Film program, featuring 40+ films under that category/genre.

The Minneapolis St. Paul International Film Festival is dedicated to representing the work of women filmmakers as a critical part of its programming. Look for the Women and Film tag as you decide what to see at the 2015 Festival. It identifies the outstanding films by women directors and related events that are part of the Festival’s program this year.


Check out the full MSPIFF 2015 Schedule

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Photo courtesy of mspfilm.org

Last year’s opening night film, Amma Asante‘s period drama Belle, ended up being one of my top 10 films of 2014, and it’ll likely be one of my fave films of all time! I wonder which other films I’ll be seeing this year will also make my top 10 of the year. Unfortunately, this year I won’t have time to see as many films as I did last year, but I have Josh from JJames Reviews to help me out again like last year. So hopefully between the two of us, we’ll get to about a couple dozen films.

Here are a sampling of films we hope to catch in the next three weeks:

FEATURE FILMS

Clouds of Sils Maria
At the peak of her international career, Maria Enders is asked to perform in a revival of the play that made her famous twenty years ago, only this time she will take the role of the older woman. Seeking refuge in Sils Maria, a remote region of the Alps, to rehearse the play, she takes stock in her career and her unknown future with her young assistant. Director Olivier Assayas takes pleasure in being coy by with his two stars—Juliette Binoche and Kristen Stewart—as he knowingly layers references to their own lives and roller coaster careers.

USA | 124 min | English
Directed by: Olivier Assayas
Starring: Juliette Binoche, Kristen Stewart, Chloë Grace Moretz

The Center
Produced by Jonathan Demme and shot locally in St Paul, Charlie Griak’s atmospheric debut focuses on a vulnerable young man who falls into the trap of a cult-like group. Ryan is a recent college grad searching not only for a job but also for a meaning in life. When he comes across a self-help organization, simply known as The Center, with a charismatic leader, Ryan seems to have found what he has been looking for.

USA | 72 min | English
Directed by: Céline Sciamma
Starring: Matt Cici, Judd Einan, Ramon Pabon

The Connection
Inspired by true events, The Connection tells the story of real-life Marseilles magistrate Pierre Michel (played by Jean Dujardin from The Artist) and his relentless crusade to dismantle the most notorious drug smuggling operation in history: the French Connection. In his crosshairs is charismatic and wealthy kingpin, Gatean “Tany” Zampa (aka La French), who runs the largest underground heroin trade into the States. Shot entirely on 35mm, Cédric Jimenez’s The Connection is a throwback to a time when 70s Italian and American crime dramas reigned supreme.

France | 135 min | French
Directed by: Cédric Jimenez
Starring: Jean Dujardin, Gilles Lellouche, Ce´line Sallette

Girlhood (Bande de filles)
Oppressed by her family setting, dead-end school prospects and the boys law in the neighborhood, Marieme starts a new life after meeting a group of 3 free-spirited girls. She changes her name, her dress code, and quits school to be accepted in the gang, hoping that this will be a way to a new life. Director Céline Sciamma (Water Lilies,Tomboy) cements her cinematic expertise in exploring the many facets of young female identity with her most powerful film yet.

France | 112 min | French
Directed by: Charlie Griak
Starring: Karidja Touré, Assa Sylla, Lindsay Karamouh

El Critico
A playful yet heartfelt take on the rom-com genre, El Critico follows Victor Tellez, a world-weary Buenos Aires film critic who prefers to think in French and eschews romantic clichés…until he finds himself living one. Tellez drifts from screening to screening in search of cinematic perfection, casting judgment on filmmakers and their films with scathing incisiveness. But when a chance meeting throws him into the jarring world of gorgeous thrill-seeker Sofia, he starts to question his meticulous, intellectual routine and realizes there’s more to his story than he ever dreamed.

Argentina| 98 min | Spanish/French
Directed by: Hernán Guerschuny
Starring: Rafael Spregelburd, Dolores, Blanca Lewin

….

Marshland
True Detective, Spainsh-style! A series of brutal murders of adolescent girls in a remote and forgotten town bring together two disparate characters—both detectives in the homicide division—to investigate the cases. With deep divisions in their ideology, detectives Juan and Pedro must put aside their differences if they are to successfully hunt down a killer who for years has terrorized a community in the shadow of a general disregard for women rooted in a misogynistic past. Alberto Rodríguez paints a gritty noir portrait of rural Spain circa 1980, rich with style, ambience and character.

Spain | 105 min | Spanish
Directed by: Alberto Rodríguez
Starring: José Antonio Félez, Mercedes Gamero, Ricardo García Arrojo

Labyrinthus
Discovering a backpack containing a USB key and a strange old camera, 14 year-old Frikke unknowingly starts a computer game that uploads real children, animals, and objects from his world into a gigantic labyrinth in the gaming world. Ordinarily, Frikke is expert at computer games; but this one is real! Frikke’s avatar must help his friends, Nora and Marco, through the labyrinth, escape from the game’s evil creator, and break the code that will release them. At least one third of the action takes place in a CGI animated alternate reality; the rest in Ghent, Belgium. Frikke must find the connection between these two worlds, before its too late!

Netherlands | 95 min | Dutch
Directed by: Douglas Boswell
Starring: Spencer Bogaert, Emma Verlinden, Felix Maesschalck

Chagall-Mallevich
A story of love and passion, hatred and egotism, and the clash of huge creative personalities, Chagall – Malevich is based on real events that occurred during the time of Marc Chagall’s short-lived Vitebsk period (1917-18), a time in which he created an Academy of Modern Art inspired by dreams of a bright and beautiful future. More than 140 copies of paintings by Chagall and his brilliant colleague Kazimir Malevich were made for the film. Here, too, is the story of Chagall’s wife Bella and her selfless love for her husband. It’s a story further complicated by her former childhood friend and one-time suitor Naum, a bitter man who is now a Soviet Commissar.

Russia | 120 min | Russian
Directed by: Aleksandr Mitta
Starring: Leonid Bichevin, Anatoliy Belyy

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The Golden Era
Hong Kong master Ann Hui vividly brings the life of pioneering 20th century female novelist and poet Xiao Hong to the screen. Hui’s lavishly shot period piece shifts perspective, narrators, and time periods freely as it chronicles Xiao Hong’s struggles—an oppressive family, an arranged marriage, a fiery affair with fellow writer Xiao Jun, and her passion, compulsion and talent for writing—until her death at age 30 in 1942.

China/Hong Kong | 178min | Chinese (Mandarin)
Directed by: Ann Hui
Starring: Tang Wei, Feng Shao Feng

To Life! (Auf Das Leben!)
Fate has taken its toll on the aging cabaret singer Ruth and the young but terminally-ill Jonas. Yet despite their great age difference and their entirely opposite experiences in life, they form an intense bond and give each other a reason and purpose to live.

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Germany | 90 min | German
Directed by: Uwe Janson
Starring: Hannelore Elsner, Max Riemelt, Sharon Brauner

Gods
Riveting, fast paced, compelling and filled with humor, Gods is the story of the rebel cardiac surgeon, Zbigniew Religa, who performed the first successful heart transplant in Soviet controlled Poland in 1984. With the support of his renegade medical team, he battled everyone including fellow doctors, the communist bureaucracy and a shocked religious community, Religa, to make history and become a national hero.

Poland | 120 min | Polish
Directed by: Lukasz Palkowski

Secrets of War
In a Nazi-occupied Dutch village that’s slowly changing, 12 year-olds Tuur and Lambert initially incorporate the war into their childhood games. Until the boys begin to question what they see: a toy appearing out of a passing train; traces of people’s belongings in the underground caves; secretive parents. Befriending Maartje, a new girl in town, the boys’ friendship is tested when they learn a powerful secret of their own and the reality of war changes their childhoods forever.

Netherlands | 95 min | Dutch
Directed by: Dennis Bots
Starring: Maas Bronkhuyzen, Joes Brauers, Pippa Allen

… 

DOCUMENTARIES

The Dinkytown Uprising
The year is 1970 and the disastrous Vietnam War keeps escalating. Protests are erupting all over U.S. campuses. But in Minneapolis, word that the national Red Barn Restaurant chain wants to erect a new fast-food franchise in old, venerable Dinkytown, the “war at home”  takes a different turn. This stunning documentary chronicles the unprecedented 40-day, 40-night continuous Dinkytown “Occupation” to prevent construction of an unwanted hamburger joint.

https://vimeo.com/121387504

Directed by: All Milgrom

The Look of Silence

Joshua Oppenheimer’s powerful companion piece to The Act of Killing, The Look of Silence focuses on a family of survivors who discovers how their son was murdered in the 1965 Indonesian genocide, as well as the identities of the killers. The youngest son, an optometrist named Adi, decides to break the suffocating silence by confronting the men who killed his brother and, while testing their eyesight, asks them to accept responsibility for their actions.

Directed by: Joshua Oppenheimer

 

Every Face Has a Name

In Every Face Has A Name, a sequel of sorts to Harbor of Hope (MSPIFF 2012), director Magnus Gertten tracks down and interviews survivors from German concentration camps seen in a 35mm archival film reel showing their arrival at the harbour of Malmo, Sweden on April 28, 1945.

The group includes Jews from all over Europe, Norwegian prisoners of war, Polish mothers and children, members of the French resistance, British spies, as well as a young Italian-American accused of being a spy—with personal reactions that are both powerful and moving.

Directed by: Magnus Gertten

All the Time in the World

Concerned with the fundamental disconnect of living in the city, a family of five leaves the comforts of home behind for a remote cabin in the Yukon wilderness camera in tow. Without running water, electricity, phone or even direct road access, Suzanne Crocker, her husband and three children (ages 10, 8 and 4) embark on a nine month experiment. Making do with no crew and limited equipment, Crocker skillfully chronicles her family’s unique personal discovers and turns them into a universal story on life, family, and everyday struggles.

Directed by: Suzanne Crocker

… 


Get your tickets and MSPIFF passes before they sell out!

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Regular Screenings
General Admission: $12.00
Film Society Members: $10.00
Students w/ID: $6.00

NEW! Beginning this year, tickets can be purchased online at mspfilm.org.

DOWNLOAD THE OFFICIAL GUIDE & FULL SCHEDULE 

 


What do you think folks, does any of these films interest you?

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