The Netherlands Film Festival’s top prize is the Golden Calf? Really?

Apparently so.

Hat tip to Variety. I had never heard of this before.

VIFF — a few capsule reviews

The Vancouver International Film Festival is about half-over now, so it’s about time I posted a few more brief capsule reviews.

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Atonement (dir. Joe Wright; UK, 123 min.)

I’ve already written my review, which will appear in print closer to the film’s North American release in December. But suffice to say that the film brilliantly engages both the heart and the brain. I would agree with those who think the World War II scenes are a bit of a letdown after the fantastic first act — at least on first viewing — but by the end of the film, I was in tears. And I wasn’t even sure who, exactly, I was crying for. I want to see this one again.

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My Kid Could Paint That (dir. Amir Bar-Lev; USA, 81 min.)

Is abstract art so simple and undemanding a child could do it? Or does it require a certain maturity of the artist? These are only the most obvious questions raised by the case of Marla Olmstead, a four-year-old girl whose paintings earned over $300,000 — until a 60 Minutes report did serious damage to her reputation, by interviewing a psychiatrist who said the paintings sold in Marla’s name could only have been done by a grown-up. This surprisingly complex film touches on many interesting issues — such as the nature of art criticism, the exploitation of prodigies, and whether four-year-old girls should even have reputations — but the one that intrigues me most is the statement made by one of the interviewees, who says that all works of art tell stories, even the ones that are calculated to avoid story-telling. People bought Jackson Pollock paintings, it is said, because they bought into the story of Jackson Pollock — a story that existed outside of the paintings but was nevertheless read into them by his admirers. So would the paintings sold in Marla’s name be just as beautiful (or not) if it turned out that someone else had made them? Or is it Marla’s story that people are really buying? I am particularly struck by the fact that one of Marla’s paintings is called “Ode to Pollock”. Who gave it that name? Surely not Marla herself? Either way, the very title of the painting implies a story too, doesn’t it? We hear it, and we either imagine a four-year-old girl sitting at an easel and thinking to herself, “I think I want to pay homage to Jackson Pollock,” or we imagine an adult looking at her painting after she’s done with it and saying, “Oh, that’s very good, honey; this reminds us of Jackson Pollock.” Or, perhaps, we imagine an adult creating the painting and calling it “Ode to Pollock” and then trying to pass it off as the work of a little girl. Among other things, My Kid Could Paint That is a compelling look at what happens when the artist loses control of the story behind the art.

Thu Oct 11 @ 3pm @ GR1

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The Savages (dir. Tamara Jenkins; USA, 113 min.)

One of my longstanding pet peeves is the lack of films about adult brother-sister relationships — so a film starring Philip Seymour Hoffman as the brother and Laura Linney as the sister (she played a similar part in 2000′s You Can Count on Me, where the brother was played by Mark Ruffalo) was a must-see, for me. Hoffman and Linney play siblings who have to deal with the fact that their father is suffering from dementia, and the fact that he was distant if not abusive to at least one of them when they were children makes things a little more complicated, emotionally. I am used to projecting myself and my own sisters onto characters like these, but this was the first film of this sort that I have seen since my twins were born, and I was startled to realize that I was imagining how Thomas and Elizabeth — toddlers whose diapers I change every day right now — might have to help me look after myself in 30 or 40 years, just as Hoffman and Linney take care of their father, sometimes bickering over how to do so. I am still mulling over what to make of the film’s final moments, and I question whether the father is so old that he would ask to watch The Jazz Singer (1927), and I doubt that a man who has been denied a major fellowship several times would not ask to see the letter — just out of curiosity — when someone he knows says she has just been accepted for it. But I really liked the subtle nuances in the writing and the performances. This felt like real life, to me.

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Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead (dir. Sidney Lumet; USA, 123 min.)

Philip Seymour Hoffman plays a brother in this movie, too — but instead of a slice-of-life drama, it’s a heist-gone-wrong thriller. Like a lot of crime flicks, this one jumps around in time, and it’s got style to burn; it’s also quite merciless to its characters. Ethan Hawke plays the kid brother who desperately needs money, and the fearlessly naked Marisa Tomei plays the woman caught between the two men (she’s Hoffman’s wife, but she sleeps with Hawke, too); Albert Finney is also on hand as the pater familias who doesn’t know his sons are responsible for the death of his wife. I had heard some great buzz about the film before I saw it, but I don’t think it is quite as good as I was led to believe; still, if you’re into really bleak stories about divorce, theft, drugs, murder, blackmail, revenge, and all that good stuff, this could be right up your alley. I particularly like the way the film emphasizes the awkward clumsiness with which the crimes are committed.

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Elijah (dir. Paul Unwin; Canada, 88 min.)

No, not a film about the biblical prophet — though that would be nice, some day — but rather, a film about Elijah Harper, the aboriginal politician from Manitoba who single-handedly defeated the Meech Lake Accord in 1990 and thus either saved the country or brought it close to ruin, depending on your point of view. (I lean towards the former view, myself.) Produced for TV, this is in some ways a conventional biopic, but it jazzes things up every now and then with irreverent history-lesson cartoons and other satiric touches. My favorite bit is the scene where Prime Minister Brian Mulroney says he cannot meet with the Native leaders personally because he has to meet Nelson Mandela; at a time when there were only a few days left to pass the Accord, because of a deadline built into it, the man who insisted that passing the Accord was some sort of moral imperative could not be bothered to meet with his own country’s natives, all because he was hosting a recently liberated native leader from some other country. I was curious to see if the film would allude to the real-life Harper’s faith in any way, but I am not too surprised to find that it doesn’t; I believe he returned to Christianity a few years after the events depicted here. So if religion comes up at all here, it is usually in the context of things like the residential school system — a big black mark on this country and all the churches involved in that.

Mon Oct 8 @ 1:30pm @ PCT

Star Trek XI — last week’s casting rumours

This post is way, way overdue, but I haven’t mentioned the latest Star Trek casting rumours yet. Then again, they are only rumours, and the closest thing to actual news here is that at least one of the people mentioned has auditioned for a part in the film.

While the rumours have originated at various sites, for simplicity’s sake, I will stick to the summaries posted at IGN.com.

First up, Paul McGillion of Stargate: Atlantis has auditioned for the part of Scotty — and like James Doohan, the actor who created the role (and whose son is rooting for McGillion), he is a Canadian who can fake a Scottish accent. McGillion would turn 39 during the film’s production; Doohan was 46 when he created the role.

Second, Mike Vogel of the Poseidon and Texas Chainsaw Massacre remakes is rumoured to be the “front runner” for Kirk. Vogel is 28; William Shatner was 35 when he created the role.

Finally, Karl Urban of The Lord of the Rings and Pathfinder and Doom and The Bourne Supremacy is rumoured to be in the running for … what, exactly? Scotty? McCoy? Pike? The villain? All of these possibilities are raised at IGN.com, but nobody’s saying. At any rate, Urban is 35, which is old for this movie’s cast.

Speaking of Walden and the Narnia movies …

… here is one odd tidbit in that Variety story that I just mentioned that deserves a post of its own:

Hopes are highest for “Prince Caspian,” which will cost at least $100 million. Granat promises that the battle-filled sequel is easily distinguishable from its predecessor and the third pic on the sked, “The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader.”

Walden and Disney recently shifted the release date for “Dawn Treader” from 2009 to 2010 due to the schedules of the young actors. The shift will also avoid a conflict of having to promote the second film and shoot the third at the same time.

Producers had announced at Comic-Con in July that auds could expect one “Narnia” installment each May for the next few years. Granat is committing publicly to only four or five, saying that “Silver Chair” might be the best bet for the fourth, followed by “Magician’s Nephew,” but he admits that there are a multitude of possibilities.

“There are a lot of stories to be taken from the seven books,” he notes.

Wait a minute … is Granat opening the door to the possibility that some of the Narnia movies might be based on stories other than the ones that C.S. Lewis wrote? I find that hard to believe.

Fox Walden — is it ready to take on Disney?

I don’t know how it works in the United States, but here in Canada, boutique labels like Paramount Vantage and Fox Searchlight are generally handled by different publicity firms from the ones that handle parent companies like Paramount Pictures and 20th Century Fox. Occasionally there is some overlap, but most of the time, films put out by the boutique labels tend to be treated like arthouse or independent films, rather than mainstream wide releases, and they generally do less business at the box office.

So I probably shouldn’t have been too surprised to learn this week that Fox Walden — the label that was set up recently when Walden Media, which specializes in adaptations of children’s books, came into the Fox fold on a permanent basis — is being handled by the same people who handle the other boutique labels. Apparently children’s-lit movies are more of a niche genre than anything else. But it does make me wonder how seriously we can take the claim, reported in this Variety story today, that Fox Walden is poised to challenge Disney’s dominance within the family-movie field.

The ironic thing? Walden Media’s biggest hit to date, by far, is The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (2005), which was distributed by … Disney. In fact, Disney released four of Walden’s six top-earning films to date — including one film, Around the World in 80 Days (2004), that was one of the biggest flops by any studio in recent memory, earning only $24 million in North America on a budget of over $100 million. (In fairness, the film earned another $48 million overseas.)

The two basically successful films that were not distributed by Disney are Because of Winn-Dixie (2005), which was distributed by Fox and grossed $33 million worldwide on a budget of nearly half that, and Charlotte’s Web (2006), which was distributed by Paramount and grossed $82.6 million in North America and another $61.8 million overseas on a budget of $85 million.

Interestingly, the Variety story suggests that Walden Media was interested in hooking up with Disney on a long-term basis, but turned to Fox when Disney said it was cutting back on its film slate. However, another Variety story that went up today notes that Disney has been re-focusing all its efforts on family films — and recently scored a success, box-office-wise, with The Game Plan, the first film to be greenlit by the new Disney regime.

The first big test of the Fox Walden approach comes this weekend with the release of The Seeker: The Dark Is Rising. But given that the film is receiving the boutique-label treatment — wide release or not — I am not sure how much I would bet on its box-office prospects. (The fact that it hasn’t gotten very good reviews is also problematic, but its 18% rating at Rotten Tomatoes is not that far behind the 29% rating that The Game Plan currently has.)

Lars and the Real Girl — the trailer

This film just looks curioser and curioser.

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Click here if the video file above doesn’t play properly.

(Hat tip to D. Andrew Kern at Beside the Queue.)


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