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Category: Venice Film Festival

Fassbender wins best actor award at Venice film festival

September 10, 2011 | 12:06 pm

Besides naming the Russian film "Faust" as the winner of the Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival on Saturday, the jury headed by director Darren Aronofsky ("Black Swan") handed out numerous other prizes. The Coppa Volpi for best actor went to Michael Fassbender, who plays a man obsessed with impersonal gratification in the film "Shame" by Steve McQueen of Britain.

Asia put in a strong showing. The Coppa Volpi for best actress was awarded to Deanie Yip in the film "Tao Jie" ("A Simple Life") by Hong Kong's Ann Hui. China's Cai Shangjun won the Silver Lion for best director for his film "Ren Shan Ren Hai" (People Mountain People Sea), which was a surprise late addition to the festival lineup. And the Marcello Mastroianni Award for best new young actor or actress went to Shota Sometani and Fumi Nikaido in the film "Himizu" by Japan's Sion Sono. 

A special jury prize was give to "Terraferma" by Emanuele Crialese  of Italy, while the Osella for the best cinematography went to Robbie Ryan for the film "Wuthering Heights" by Andrea Arnold and the Osella for best screenplay went to Greece's Yorgos Lanthimos and Efthimis Filippou for the film "Alpis" (Alps).  

The handful of American films in competition, including George Clooney's "The Ides of March," "Dark Horse," "Texas Killing Fields" and "Killer Joe" were shut out.


Telluride: Michael Fassbender exposes more than skin in 'Shame'

'Shame,' Fassbender ride hot, kinky buzz out of Venice, Telluride

'Shame' finds U.S. buyer, will hit theaters in 2011

-- Julie Makinen

Photo: Carey Mulligan and Michael Fassbender in "Shame." Credit: Toronto International Film Festival.

What the critics said about 'Faust' in Venice

September 10, 2011 | 11:48 am

The Russian film "Faust" took home the Golden Lion from the Venice Film Festival on Saturday, much to the surprise of many. The film, which screened late in the festival, seemed to have flown under the radar of many festival-goers and critics. Those who did take note were divided on the film, a retelling of the Goethe tragedy about a dissatisfied scholar who makes a deal with the devil. 

Jay Weissberg, writing for Variety, said established Sokurov fans are "the only audience for this largely impenetrable though undeniably impressive indulgence."

Deborah Young, writing for the Hollywood Reporter, said "Faust" is the "most difficult" of the series of four films in director Alexander Sokurov’s series on the nature of power. She added that the "expressionistic filmmaking lets loose in an idiosyncratic style of chaotic slapstick, in which frenetic theatrical acting contrasts with deformed visuals that can barely contain the actors" and concluded that "this piece of highbrow entertainment" will "struggle to take wing outside festival and showcase screenings."

Here's a trailer; although there's no English, you can get a sense of the visuals:


Venice Film Festival: 'Faust' wins Golden Lion award

Is 'Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy' the 'film to beat' at Venice?

Venice Film Fest: Buzz (good and bad) for Keira Knightley in "A Dangerous Method"

-- Julie Makinen

Venice Film Festival: 'Faust' wins Golden Lion award

September 10, 2011 | 11:19 am

In a surprise, Russian director Aleksandr Sokurov's "Faust" won the Venice Film Festival's Golden Lion prize on Saturday.

"Faust," which screened somewhat late in the festival, after many critics had left, bested 21 other films in competition, including Tomas Alfredson’s adaptation of John le Carre’s “Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy” (with Gary Oldman as super spy George Smiley); George Clooney’s American presidential campaign drama “Ides of March;” and David Cronenberg’s “A Dangerous Method.” Also competing were Roman Polanski’s “Carnage,” an adaptation of Yasmina Reza’s Broadway play “God of Carnage”; Steve McQueen's sexually charged "Shame"; William Friedkin’s “Killer Joe” (a drama starring Emile Hirsch and Matthew McConaughey); and Todd Solondz’s “Dark Horse,” starring Mia Farrow.  

"Faust" is screening at this week's Toronto International Film Festival, where it's likely to now become a hot ticket.

Darren Aronofsky, whose dark ballet drama "Black Swan" opened last year's Venice Film Festival, headed the jury for the 68th annual affair, which began Aug. 31 and wraps up this weekend. In 2008, Aronofsky's Mickey Rourke drama "The Wrestler" won the top prize at Venice.

The Venice festival is considered an important stop for many Academy Award hopefuls, but the Golden Lion is certainly no guarantee of eventual Oscar glory. Last year, Quentin Tarantino headed up the jury, which, in a controversial move, awarded the Golden Lion to Sofia Coppola's moody, faded-celebrity study "Somewhere." In 2009, the prize went to Samuel Maoz’s war drama “Lebanon.” Neither landed Academy Award nominations.

Faust is part of Sokurov's monumental “Men of Power” tetralogy, which kicked off with "Moloch" in 1999. Toronto programmers described the film as a "freestyle fantasy version of Faust, loosely based on the famed literary interpretations by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe and Thomas Mann." The film stars Johannes Zeiler, Anton Adasinskiy, Isolda Dychauk, Georg Friedrich and Hanna Schygulla.

Faust tells the story of a successful scholar who becomes impatient with the religious limitations imposed on scientific knowledge and is just about ready to sell his soul to the devil for some real enlightenment for a change.

Sokurov’s previous works in the four-film series have concentrated on con­tentious historical icons of the 20th century including Adolf Hitler ("Moloch"), Vladimir Ilyich Lenin ("Taurus") and Emperor Hirohito ("The Sun").  

The Venice competition featured a good number of titles from Asia, including "Himizu," from Japanese auteur Sion Sono; "Life Without Principle" from Hong Kong's Johnnie To; "Warriors of the Rainbow: Seediq Bale," an epic-length Taiwanese movie about aboriginal fighters; Hong Kong helmer Ann Hui's "A Simple Life"; and the late surprise entry, China's "Ren Shan Ren Hai" from Shangjun Cai. 


 Photo: A scene from "Faust." Credit: Toronto International Film Festival

Is 'Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy' the 'film to beat' at Venice?

September 6, 2011 |  6:42 am

Colin Firth Gary Oldman Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy

Unlike many of the movies that debuted at the Venice Film Festival in recent days, "Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy" isn't making a quick leap across the Atlantic to another cinematic gathering in, say, Toronto or New York.

The film is set to soon begin a slow rollout in Europe, but U.S. fans of the John Le Carre espionage novel (or 1970s miniseries) will have to wait until December to see Swedish director's Tomas Alfredson's take on the tale of George Smiley and his hunt for a mole within British spy agency MI6. But early reviews out of Venice indicate that their patience will be rewarded.

Leslie Felperin, writing for Variety, says the film –- starring Gary Oldman as Smiley -- is an "inventive, meaty distillation" of the book and offers "an incisive examination of Cold War ethics, rich in both contempo resonance and elegiac melancholy." Felperin adds that just as Le Carre's novel captured the mid-1970s zeitgeist of disillusionment with politicians and those in power, coming as it did after Watergate, the Vietnam War and the fall of the Shah in Iran, this remake "catches the newest wave of disillusionment and anxiety. It may be a period piece, right down to the slacks flared just so and the vintage wallpaper, but it feels painfully apt now to revisit the early-to-mid-1970s, when things were just about to fall apart.”

Alfredson may be best known to Americans for his Nordic vampire tale "Let the Right One In," which was remade last year into the English-language "Let Me In."  Besides Oldman, "Tinker, Tailor" offers the chance to see Colin Firth off his Oscar-winning role in "The King's Speech." The cast also includes John Hurt, Ciaran Hinds and Benedict Cumberbatch.

Deborah Young says in the Hollywood Reporter that the film "shows a faithfulness that should fully meet the expectations of the writer's fans" and says it's "visually absorbing" and "a solid piece of thinking-man's entertainment for upmarket thriller audiences."

Xan Brooks of the Guardian called the movie "the film to beat" at Venice. We'll see shortly: The Golden Lion will be handed out Saturday.


Hot films up for grabs at the Toronto Film Festival

Telluride: Michael Fassbender exposes more than skin in "Shame"

Venice Film Fest: Buzz (good and bad) for Keira Knightley in "A Dangerous Method"

-- Julie Makinen

Photo: Colin Firth, Gary Oldman, Benedict Cumberbatch and John Hurt arrive for the premiere of "Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy" at the Venice Film Festival on Monday. Credit: Joel Ryan  / Associated Press

'Shame,' Fassbender ride hot, kinky buzz out of Venice, Telluride

September 5, 2011 |  6:00 am

If there’s one film coming out of this weekend’s film festival screenings in Venice and Telluride, Colo., with white-hot award season buzz — not to mention racy details sure to stir box-office interest and problems — it must be “Shame,” British director Steve McQueen’s sophomore film, starring Michael Fassbender as Brandon, a sexually obsessed man in New York.

Just when general audiences will get a look at “Shame” remains to be decided — it’s one of the hottest acquisition titles heading into this week’s Toronto International Film Festival, assuming it doesn’t get snapped up before then. When it does hit U.S. theaters, it seems almost certain the MPAA will stick it with an NC-17 rating. (Brandon’s workplace computer and his Manhattan apartment are jammed with porn, and within the film's initial minutes Brandon — with a courageous performance by a full-frontal Fassbender — has slept with a hooker and masturbated in the shower. And then things get really kinky.)

Writing for the Hollywood Reporter, Todd McCarthy says it’s amazing that it has taken Fassbender — who starred this year in “Jane Eyre” and “X-Men: First Class” in addition to having the lead in another festival title, playing psychoanalyst Carl Jung in “A Dangerous Method” — this long to be fully recognized.

“He’s got it all: Looks, authority, physicality, command of the screen, great vocal articulation, a certain chameleon quality and the ability to suggest a great deal within while maintaining outward composure, just for starters,” McCarthy said in giving a hearty review of “Shame.” “Whether he becomes a real movie star is another matter, but when it comes to pure acting skill and potential, it’s possible that Daniel Day-Lewis now has a young challenger.”

Oliver Lyttelton of IndieWire notes that Fassbender couldn’t be any more different in “Shame” — where he plays opposite Carey Mulligan — than in he is in David Cronenberg’s “A Dangerous Method,” which also explores sex and the psyche, albeit from a much more reserved, period viewpoint.

“While he was all stiff repression as Carl Jung, here he’s all id, constantly pursuing some itch that he can never quite scratch. Going by the idea of orgasm as ‘la petite mort,’ a brief taste of nothingness … [his character is] unable to link the idea of someone he genuinely likes to what he sees as the violence of sex, and the tension, the division is clear from Fassbender’s performance. But crucially, he’s deeply sad and deeply human, never shutting the audience out, which prevents the film from being as chilly as it could have been.”

Variety’s Justin Chang calls “Shame” a “mesmerizing companion piece” to McQueen’s 2008 debut, "Hunger," but says it’s “more approachable.” Like “Hunger,” it “fixes its gaze on the uses and abuses of the human body, as Michael Fassbender again strips himself down, in every way an actor can, for McQueen's rigorous but humane interrogation,” Chang says. He adds that “Confrontational subject matter and matter-of-fact explicitness will position the film at the higher end of the specialty market, but it's certain to arouse critical acclaim and smart-audience interest wherever it's shown.”

The Guardian’s Xan Brooks was equally enthusiastic: “This is fluid, rigorous, serious cinema; the best kind of adult movie. There are glimmers of American Gigolo to its pristine sheen and echoes of Midnight Cowboy.”


Hot films Up for grabs at the Toronto Film Festival

Telluride: Michael Fassbender exposes more than skin in 'Shame'

Venice Film Fest: Buzz (good and bad) for Keira Knightley in 'A Dangerous Method'

 — Julie Makinen

Photo: Carey Mulligan and Michael Fassbender share a rare smile in "Shame." Photo: See-Saw Films.







Telluride Film Fest: Clooney says cameras are OK after all

September 2, 2011 | 11:27 am

George Clooney fans, it's OK to take out those cameras again and snap photos of your idol against the picturesque southwestern Colorado mountains!

Hours after organizers of the Telluride Film Festival instructed the handful of media representatives in this ski town to leave their cameras in their condos for all Clooney events, the ban has been lifted.

On Friday morning, festival organizers emailed journalists and said: “I wanted to give you notice that there will be no photography allowed inside the theaters at any of the George Clooney events. This includes the tribute and screenings, intros and Q&As of ‘The Descendants.’ ”

The festival is hosting the premiere of "The Descendants" in which Clooney plays an absentee father who suddenly finds himself responsible for the care of his two daughters when his wife falls into a coma after a boating accident. There will also be a tribute to Clooney, who will be jetting in to Telluride from Italy, where his film "The Ides of March" debuted earlier this week at the Venice Film Festival.

Clooney, who was not consulted about the photo ban and didn't ask for it, asked the festival Friday morning to rescind the rule, which Telluride promptly did.


Telluride Film Festival Lineup

Clooney's 'Ides of March' premieres in Venice

First trailer from Clooney's 'The Descendants' unveiled

-- John Horn in Telluride, Colo., and Julie Makinen

Top photo: George Clooney signs autographs as he arrives on the red carpet for the premiere of the movie "The Ides of March," which opened the  Venice Film Festival in Venice, Italy, on Wednesday. Credit: Joel Ryan/AP. Bottom photo: George Clooney with Los Angeles Times reporter John Horn, proving there is no longer a Clooney photo ban at the Telluride Film Festival. Credit: Los Angeles Times

Venice Film Fest: Buzz (good and bad) for Keira Knightley

September 2, 2011 |  9:23 am

Keira Knightley and Michael Fassbender in David Cronenberg's A Dangerous Method
David Cronenberg's "A Dangerous Method" premiered Friday at the Venice Film Festival, and already Keira Knightley's performance seems to be becoming a topic of buzz. Depending on whom you believe, it's either Oscar-worthy, or a bit of an embarrassment. The film centers on the friendship between Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung (played by Viggo Mortensen and Michael Fassbender, respectively) and the brilliant female patient-student, Sabina (Knightley), who came between them.

Cronenberg is known for his passion for gore, but "A Dangerous Method" seems to steer clear of that in his new film. Justin Chung, writing for Variety, praises the movie overall as "elegant" and "coolly restrained" -- but zeroes in on Knightley's performance as a possible trouble spot.

 "Rather less assured, and initially the film's most problematic element, is Knightley, whose brave but unskilled depiction of hysteria at times leaves itself open to easy laughs," he said. "The spectacle of the usually refined actress flailing about, taking on a grotesque underbite, and stammering and wailing in a Russian accent is perhaps intended to clash with her costars' impeccable restraint, but does so here in unintended ways. But as Sabina's condition improves, so does Knightley's performance." 

Xan Brooks, in a negative review for the Guardian, says that, nevertheless, "Knightley provides the Oscar bait," while David Gritten, writing for Britain's Telegraph, says Cronenberg "has coaxed a performance from Knightley so ferocious in these early scenes that it seems likely to become the film's main talking point. It’s also a risky strategy, as Sabina’s behaviour is extreme to the point of being alienating."

But the Hollywood Reporter's Todd McCarthy has praise for "Knightley's excellent work as a character with a very long emotional arc," saying: "Screaming and alarmingly jutting out her jaw in extremis, Knightley starts at a pitch so high as to provoke fear of where she'll go from there. Fortunately, the direction is down; as her character, under Jung's fastidious care, gradually gets a grip on her issues and can assess herself with a measure of intellectual composure, the performance modulates into something fully felt and genuinely impressive." 

More reactions to come -- the film will roll out at next week's Toronto International Film Festival.


Oscar update: Beware, 'The Ides of March' and George Clooney

-- Julie Makinen

Photo: Keira Knightley and Michael Fassbender in "A Dangerous Method." Credit: Sony Pictures Classics

Venice Film Festival: Madonna's 'W.E.' splits the critics

September 1, 2011 | 11:57 am

Madonna andrea riseborough and abbie cornish at venice

Madonna's sophomore directorial effort "W.E." unspooled at the Venice Film Festival on Thursday, and critics are split on the drama about the scandalous 1930s romance between American divorcee Wallis Simpson (the "W") and Britain's King Edward VIII (the "E"), which led him to give up the throne.

History buffs and fans of last year's "The King's Speech" are certainly familiar with the story. Speaking to reporters at a news conference, Madonna said she hopes that the success of “King's Speech” gives audiences a point of reference for “W.E.” (The Weinstein Co., which was behind "Speech" and now "W.E.," is obviously counting on some crossover interest.)

Whether audiences will bite remains to be seen; the film will play at the Toronto Film Festival this month and then hit U.S. theaters in December.

Madonna said the two films examine the same historic period from distinct points of view. She also told a news conference that she identifies with Simpson, because fame often reduces celebrities “to a sound bite,” the Associated Press reported.

Yet critic Xan Brooks doesn't see the film as a valentine to Simpson, and came out swinging in the Guardian, saying: "Whatever the crimes committed by Wallis Simpson -– marrying a king, sparking a constitutional crisis, fraternising with Nazis -– it's doubtful that she deserves the treatment meted out to her in 'W.E.,' Madonna's jaw-dropping take on 'the 20th-century's greatest royal love story.' The woman is defiled, humiliated, made to look like a joke. The fact that W.E. comes couched in the guise of a fawning, servile snow-job only makes the punishment feel all the more cruel."

The Hollywood Reporter's Todd McCarthy is slightly more charitable, writing that "hop-scotching between glamorous locations, as well as between decades and story strands, with the frequency of its director on a tour, 'W.E.' is as easy on the eyes and ears as it is embalmed from any dramatic point of view."

The Telegraph's David Gritten seems to be a fan: "A film directed by Madonna that deals in part with the love affair between King Edward VIII and Mrs. Simpson? A curious notion, and not truly an enticing one. Yet 'W.E.' is rather better than expected; it’s bold, confident and not without amusing moments." Yet he adds it's "undeniably a strange concoction."


Oscar update: Beware, 'The Ides of March' and George Clooney

-- Julie Makinen

Photo: Andrea Riseborough, left, Madonna and Abbie Cornish at the Venice Film Festival. Credit: Joel Ryan / AP

Venice Film Festival: Early thumbs up for Polanski's 'Carnage'

September 1, 2011 | 11:27 am

John reilly kate winslet and cristoph waltz at venice film festival

Roman Polanski's "Carnage" had its world premiere Thursday at the Venice Film Festival, and early reviews -- rather glowing -- are trickling in. The movie, adapted from the Tony-winning play "God of Carnage" by Yasmina Reza, is a dark comedy about two parental couples who meet after one of their sons strikes another on the playground. It will open in the U.S. in December, distributed by Sony Pictures Classics. (It's also the opening selection of this year's New York Film Festival.)  

Writing in Variety, Justin Chang says: "The gloves come off early and the social graces disintegrate on cue in 'Carnage,' which spends 79 minutes observing, and encouraging, the steady erosion of niceties between two married couples. But the real battle in Roman Polanski's brisk, fitfully amusing adaptation of Yasmina Reza's popular play is a more formal clash between stage minimalism and screen naturalism, as this acid-drenched four-hander never shakes off a mannered, hermetic feel that consistently betrays its theatrical origins."

In the Hollywood Reporter, Todd McCarthy writes: "Roman Polanski's mastery of films within small spaces is evident in his adaptation of the Yasmina Reza play."

The film stars Jodie Foster, John C. Reilly, Christoph Waltz and Kate Winslet.

Lee Marshall, opining in the London Evening Standard, says Foster "gives a wicked, Oscar-worthy comic performance" as the neurotically thin, bleeding-heart liberal mother of the victim.

David Gritten, writing in the Telegraph, says Waltz, "as the rudest man in the room, gets the best lines. It’s well-acted and giddily enjoyable, if slightly less so once the characters start to analyse their descent into barbarism."


-- Julie Makinen

Photo: John C. Reilly, left, Kate Winslet and Christoph Waltz at the Venice Film Festival. Credit: Claudio Onorati / European Pressphoto Agency

At Venice, is 'Contagion' following 'The Town's' awards playbook?

August 31, 2011 |  3:19 pm

Anna Jacoby-Herron and Matt Damon in Steven Soderbergh's virus drama Contagion

When Warner Bros. Pictures premieres Steven Soderbergh's globe-trotting virus drama "Contagion" Sunday at the Venice Film Festival, it will be launching a campaign for a movie that shares many attributes with the studio's hit from fall 2010: Ben Affleck's "The Town," which also made its debut at the starry European fest.

Despite very different subject matters, "The Town" (starring Affleck and Jeremy Renner) and "Contagion" are both accessible dramas with strong ensemble casts. Plus, "Contagion" (which stars Matt Damon, Gwyneth Paltrow and Kate Winslet, among others) also boasts that critical quality of certain fall releases: strong commercial appeal mixed with potential awards support.

Warner Bros. worldwide president of marketing Sue Kroll sees the similarities between the two films.

“They are similar in that they both have popular appeal, a great mix of cast and a very accessible subject matter told in a really wonderful, interesting way. They are incredibly well-crafted, well-acted, well-directed films but they can broaden out and may end up reaching a much wider audience,” Kroll says.

"Contagion" needs a strong commercial bow before it can be considered an Oscar candidate, and with its stateside opening set for Sept. 9, Venice serves as a strategic launching pad worldwide for the movie. "The Town" opened in the U.S. last Sept. 17 and grossed $154 million worldwide, and Warner Bros. ran a concerted Oscar campaign for the film. The picture missed the cut for the 10 best picture nominees, but Renner was nominated in the best supporting actor category.

"Contagion" has a chance for even greater box office success, considering the film features a much larger geographic scope and a cast with more international stars, including Marion Cotillard, Jude Law and Chin Han.

Plus, who doesn't love a good pandemic?


Photos: Scene at the 2011 Venice Film Festival

Matt Damon: Steven Soderbergh really does plan to retire from film

-- Nicole Sperling

Photo: Matt Damon and Anna Jacoby-Herron in a scene in "Contagion." Credit: Claudette Barius / Reuters


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