True story: I’m on the sunny sidewalk outside Sacha Baron Cohen’s The Dictator, and out of the theater saunters one of my fellow audience members, dressed in slacks and Islamic headscarf of a sort that is pretty conventional in south Brooklyn, and she doesn’t mind a casual exchange of views. “I have to tell you,” she says, “it was offensive to a lot of people.” She reflects a little more. “It was funny, though.” Her gaze falls on Court Street. “I laughed.” She laughs. “I loved it!”—and she breaks into a gloriously sheepish smile.
Stanley Kauffmann on Films: Facts and Fantasies
May 18, 2012
Elena I Wish Naturalism lives. If Zola were a Russian in Russia today, he might have written Elena. Zola being absent, the director Andrei Zvyagintsev has written this screenplay with Oleg Negin, looking at lives with that combination of candor and regret that marks the best naturalist work. This approach in itself is a novelty in Russian films. Another is the milieu. The history of naturalism is closely woven with suffering, with the impulse to inform the disregarding world of social or economic oppression.
David Thomson on Films: How Johnny Depp and Tim Burton Became Shadows of Their Former Selves
May 15, 2012
The only reason to see Dark Shadows is to discover how dire and pointless—how flat-out dreadful—a movie can be even when it has Tim Burton, Johnny Depp, Michelle Pfeiffer, and Helena Bonham Carter attached to its flimsy pretext. This is one more vampiric concoction, the total budget for which (apparently $105 million) might have sustained 100 worthwhile, independent projects by new directors.
From time to time these days, one meets young people—film students even—who can’t quite place Gary Cooper. Come May 13, he will have been dead for 51 years; and on May 7—the day I’m writing—he was born in 1901, up in Montana.
Stanley Kauffmann on Films: French Accents
May 04, 2012
Goodbye First Love Elles Monsieur Lazhar First love, a term that often has a touch of the patronizing, is a moving truth in a new French film called Goodbye First Love. The writer-director, Mia Hansen-Løve, whose third feature this is, has addressed her subject with complete emotional confidence. She knows how it is often “understood” and disprized; she also wants us to see some aftereffects. Camille is a fifteen-year-old student in Paris when we first see her—nude, as her beloved boyfriend, the nineteen-year-old Sullivan, pulls the covers off her.
There is a passage in Howard Hawks’ Bringing Up Baby in which David Huxley (Cary Grant) and Susan Vance (Katharine Hepburn) are lost at night in the forest of Connecticut searching for a leopard called Baby and a fox terrier named George. If you don’t know the picture, don’t bother to ask, “Why a leopard?” Your every instinct is correct—there are (and should be) no leopards in Connecticut. Yet there might have been. We know now that the ingenious German plan to have a U-boat unload a cargo of fierce cats on that state’s shore in 1942 was aborted only at the last moment.
David Thomson on Films: How ‘The Godfather’ Was Diminished By Its State-of-the-Art Restoration
April 24, 2012
For strange one-day-only engagements, a few Cinemark theaters across the country have been playing a “restored” version of The Godfather Part II (1974). This is a follow-up to the same remarketing of the first film, The Godfather (1972), and Cinemark is proud (if premature) about this “Fortieth Anniversary Edition.” One reason for barely noticing the celebration is that the lucky theatres are so rare. Another is that the Godfather films have not disappeared. They are on television on some channel nearly every week, just because audiences love to see them over and over again.
Stanley Kauffmann on Films: Devotions
April 20, 2012
Gerhard Richter Painting We Have a Pope Jiro Dreams of Sushi Only a few months after a German documentary about a famous artist, Anselm Kiefer, here is another from Germany about a famous artist. Gerhard Richter Painting is, like the earlier film, a kind of residence with its subject rather than a report. Corinna Belz, the director, in fact spent three years off and on with Richter, with his beginnings of works, his changes, his resumptions, his conclusions. She had made an earlier short film about Richter, and evidently she had his full confidence.
This is a review of Julia Loktev’s The Loneliest Planet, and the calendar pretext is that the movie will play at the San Francisco Film Festival on April 24 and 27. Not all of you will be able to get to the Bay Area, but, since last August, The Loneliest Planet has already played at the festivals of Locarno, Toronto, New York, London and the AFI. Still, it has not “opened” yet. That is promised for this August, albeit on a limited basis. What does limited mean? Well, Loktev and the rest of us might bear in mind what happened with her previous film, her first, Day Night Day Night.
The Hollywood Western, as a genre, is a realm of fantasy. Once Upon a Time in the West is, in its pseudo-realistic way a fantasy superimposed on that general fantasy. Sergio Leone is the best-known of the European makers of Westerns that we’ve been getting lately, mostly from Italy. I haven’t seen his previous films, but veteran Leonists tell me that this new one is like them, only very much more so.