Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Reviews from Cannes

Reviews of Oscar-buzzed films are pouring in from Cannes courtesy of Variety. Here are the ones for Agora, Antichrist, Bright Star, and Taking Woodstock. Click on titles for the full reviews.

"The mother of all secular humanists fights a losing battle against freshly minted religious zealots in “Agora,” a visually imposing, high-minded epic that ambitiously puts one of the pivotal moments in Western history onscreen for the first time. Alejandro Amenabar’s first feature since “The Sea Inside” five years ago foreshadows the transformation of the Roman-dominated ancient world into Christian medieval times through the story of the much-celebrated astronomer and mathematician Hypatia in 4th-century Alexandria. This elaborately produced English-language Spanish production is consistently spectacular and features enough conflict and action to make it marketable, but a certain heaviness of style and lack of an emotional pulse could pose problems for mass audience acceptance, at least in the U.S."

"Lars von Trier cuts a big fat art-film fart with "Antichrist." As if deliberately courting critical abuse, the Danish bad boy densely packs this theological-psychological horror opus with grotesque, self-consciously provocative images that might have impressed even Hieronymus Bosch, as the director pursues personal demons of sexual, religious and esoteric bodily harm, as well as feelings about women that must be a comfort to those closest to him. Traveling deep into NC-17 territory, this may prove a great date movie for pain-is-pleasure couples. Otherwise, most of the director's usual fans will find this outing risible, off-putting or both -- derisive hoots were much in evidence during and after the Cannes press screening -- while the artiness quotient is far too high for mainstream-gore groupies."

Bright Star
"The Jane Campion embraced by 1990s arthouse audiences but who’s been missing of late makes an impressive return with “Bright Star.” Breaking through any period-piece mustiness with piercing insight into the emotions and behavior of her characters, the writer-director examines the final years in the short life of 19th-century romantic poet John Keats through the eyes of his beloved, Fanny Brawne, played by Abbie Cornish in an outstanding performance. Beautifully made film possesses solid appeal for specialized auds in most markets, including the U.S., where it will be released by Bob Berney and Bill Pohlad’s yet-to-be named new distribution company, although its poetic orientation and dramatic restraint will likely stand in the way of wider acceptance."

Taking Woodstock
"Gentle, genial and about as memorable as a mild reefer high, “Taking Woodstock” takes a backdoor approach to revisit the landmark musical weekend through the antics and efforts of some of the people who made it happen. A sort of let’s-put-on-a-show summer-camp lark for director Ang Lee after the dramatic rigors of “Brokeback Mountain” and “Lust, Caution,” the picture serves up intermittent pleasures but is too raggedy and laid-back for its own good, its images evaporating nearly as soon as they hit the screen. Set for release in August on the 40th anniversary of the event, the Focus release looks like a mild B.O. contender."

From these reviews, Bright Star seems to be destined to become Jane Campion's comeback into the winner's circle and a major Oscar contender come year's end. Best Picture and Best Director nominations are a distinct possibility, while a Best Actress citation for Abbie Cornish is looking likely. A Best Actor nod for Ben Whishaw is less so but still possible. As with most period films, there are chances for technical nominations, with Mark Bradshaw's score getting special mention. Agora seems to be headed for a number of technical Oscar nominations, the likeliest among them Costume Design (Gabrielle Pescucci), Art Direction (Guy Hendrix Dyas) and, to a lesser extent, Cinematography (Xavi Gimenez) and Original Score (Dario Marianelli). Antichrist has an outside, all-too-slim chance of getting cited for its lensing (last year's winner, Anthony Dod Mantle). While it is never perfectly wise to completely discount Ang Lee films, the response sounds too tepid to warrant much interest. Prior to wide U.S. release, possibilities seem limited to citations for the supporting turns of Imelda Staunton and Liev Schreiber.

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