James Cameron, Jane Campion, Laurent Cantet, Frank Capra, Léos Carax, John Carpenter, John Cassavetes, Claude Chabrol, Youssef Chahine, Charlie Chaplin, Chen Kaige, René Clair, Henri-Georges Clouzot, Jean Cocteau,
Joel and Ethan Coen, Francis Ford Coppola, Roger Corman, Wes Craven, David Cronenberg, Alfonso Cuarón, George Cukor, Michael Curtiz



Caan, Scott


DALLAS 362                                                            B                     89

USA  (100 mi)  2003


A stylish indie film with plenty of attitude and some particularly fine moments, featuring strong performances from an excellent cast, especially from the best friend leads Rusty (Shawn Hatosy) and Dallas (played by the writer/director), and a blaring soundtrack that loves a slide guitar, blues riffs, and incendiary guitar licks, all of which combine for a small gem of a film.  The backdrop of the story is told over the opening credits in black and white still photos, a montage of successive arrests from bar fights where Rusty’s mother (Kelly Lynch) continually picks them up from some barroom brawl in the middle of the night, all given their due from the hard driving blues that plays underneath.  It’s a nice set up, where Rusty and Dallas have a kind of PULP FICTION (1994) relationship, partners in crime who spend all their time jawing with one another, usually interrupted at some point of disagreement before they begin again, two woefully raw, hard nosed characters who may as well be Vladimir and Estragon waiting for someone named Godot.  Their conversations are moral quandaries that have an unfinished quality about them, but despite their dead-end lives somewhere in the vast emptiness of the great Southwest, these guys have an endearing charm that is the glue that holds this picture together, as this is a character driven movie about living on the edge of going nowhere.  Unfortunately, however brief, the movie insists on providing a sunny roadmap to the future, ruining the best thing about the film, a searing portrait of living in uncertainty.   


Dallas 362   Mike D’Angelo                  


Near the end of Scott Caan's improbably electrifying directorial debut, the main character, Rusty (Shawn Hatosy), sits talking to his mother, Mary (Kelly Lynch), about some impending upheavals in their lives — her sudden engagement to her psychiatrist boyfriend, his desire to return to Texas and pursue a career as a rodeo cowboy. It's a fairly straightforward heart-to-heart, sharply written and beautifully acted but still potentially something of a Hallmark moment. As mother and son converse in the foreground, however, quiet magic unfolds in the background, out of focus: About halfway through the scene, Mary's fiancé, Bob (Jeff Goldblum), who's been doing double duty as Rusty's shrink, wanders out to greet them, but stops dead upon sensing that he's about to intrude upon The Big Talk. He watches briefly from afar, then turns and beats a hasty, positively giddy retreat — all of this conveyed solely via Goldblum's gangly body language. Tender and goofy, it's the kind of detail that most novice filmmakers would underline with a close-up or a focus pull; Caan simply lets it happen, and has the confidence never to refer to it again.

Limping into a handful of theaters some two years after its festival premiere, Dallas 362 has been ignored by most critics and blithely dismissed by the rest, as if stylish, inventive indie filmmaking were so commonplace as to be beneath notice. Granted, the film's broad outline alone won't elevate any pulses — Rusty's conflicted relationship with his troublemaking best friend, Dallas (Caan himself), amounts to macho-existential boilerplate, the umpteenth variation on the Mean Streets template. But who cares about a trite narrative when each individual moment snaps, crackles and/or pops? Caan Jr. has never particularly impressed me as an actor (although he has some fine dunderheaded bits here, including a priceless bit in which he masochistically toys with a needle embedded in his forehead), but he's a born director — camera forever precisely where it ought to be, every cut threatening to draw blood. And if he lets Val Lauren go too far over the top in the role of an adenoidal paranoid, that's a small price to pay for the marvelous, effortless work he coaxes from the rest of his cast. (In a just and righteous universe, Hatosy, Lynch and Goldblum would have a realistic shot at an Oscar-night hat trick.) If we're going to anoint a Godfather offspring as the future of American cinema, I'll take Caan's freewheeling, raggedy, '70s-on-steroids groove over Sofia Coppola's coy preciousness in a heartbeat. Seek this one out. It's worth the effort.


Dallas 362  Michael Sicinski from the Academic Hack

Here's a film that no one really gives two shits about in the larger world -- it won at CineVegas 03, played Toronto, and slumped into theatres two years later -- but a lot of people in my immediate circle are pretty high on it. I first tried to watch it late last year but turned the disc off at the 30-minute mark. It struck me as way too smug, and its seeming celebration of thick-necked dumbass thuggery turned me off like, well, like a family reunion, if you catch my drift. In fact, the opening minutes were a bit misleading, since Dallas 362 is a movie about Rusty, a young man (Shawn Hatosy) divided against himself, and the film itself reflects this. It's about two-thirds sweaty macho swagger, with Rusty and his best bud Dallas (Caan) getting into bar fights, hanging with lowlifes, and worrying Rusty's mom (Kelly Lynch). But the middle third is actually a thoughtful (if oddly stilted) examination of the same laddishness that characterizes the first and last acts. (Rusty feels loyalty to Dallas but knows he's going nowhere fast, hence the conflict.) Shawn confides in his mom's therapist boyfriend (Jeff Goldblum) who helps out simply by listening. While this emotional conflict at the core of Dallas 362 at least helps me understand what others may be seeing in this film, it certainly isn't enough to elevate this rather awkward, tonally inconsistent film. A friend compared it to Nicholas Ray, and while I sort of see where he was going with that reference point, it really doesn't work. While it's Caan's aim to plunge into the heart of masculine darkness (Goldblum's character, in fact, could be seen as analogous to Jim Backus's sympathetic daddy in Rebel Without a Cause, if he'd had a backbone and if the film had taken him seriously), the outsized caricature and self-satisfied dudishness of Dallas and his world undercut the attempt. Too much frat-boy nonsense, too much Ruben the Roofer, too much Christian the tweaker, and too much of that goddamned wannabe catchphrase. (Don't worry. I won't repeat it here.) Neither a near-masterpiece nor a sub-Guy Ritchie waste of time, Dallas 362 is just another middling Amerindie. Enjoy, or don't.

Variety (Scott Foundas) review

The 26-year-old actor Scott Caan likely grew up watching films his father James made during the late-1960s/early-1970s, and the influence shows in his debut as writer-director, "Dallas 362." Set and shot, like last year's "Spun" and "The Salton Sea," in grimy flophouses and back alleys of Los Angeles, Caan's picture refreshingly refrains from borrowing from those films' stylistic handbook. Rather, it has a relaxed poeticism to it; it's a sweetly naive, adolescent Hemingway fantasy with a star-making performance by Shawn Hatosy and good ones from everyone else (including Caan). The recipient of the critics' jury prize at Cinevegas, this low-key but accomplished pic definitely has a future as a festival item and a specialized theatrical release.

The story of two longtime friends, Rusty (Hatosy) and Dallas (Caan), who ramble aimlessly from bar fight to bar fight, always getting bailed out by Rusty's understanding mom (Kelly Lynch), "Dallas 362" has a first-time-filmmaker's tendency to overplay its hand. At times, Caan (like Hemingway or Sam Shepard at their worst) gets a bit too seduced by the notion of angry young men working out their frustrations physically when that's exactly the thing pic purports to be rallying against. (There's one scene, in which Dallas stares at his split-open and bleeding head in the mirror and seems turned-on by it.) Rusty, who's supposed to be the one with the bright future in this doomed, "Scarecrow"-esque friendship, occasionally smacks of bad Will Hunting-isms. He's a loner-rebel caricature: the toughest, most sensitive and most misunderstood kid on the block.

But this shaggy dog of a movie (decked out in work boots and blasted blue jeans), is also involving and surprisingly mature. There's something sweetly appealing about Caan's near-fetishization of adolescent angst. Despite his indulgence in cliches, Caan connects to his characters on a deep, meaningful level; auds will care about Rusty and Dallas, even if they don't quite believe they exist. Caan lets their situations -- Rusty is looking for a way back to the Texas of his youth; Dallas is plotting a robbery to set him up for life -- play out in unpredictable ways, even if too much time is spent on the Dallas subplot.

Caan stages some lovely scenes, like one early on where a beautiful girl (Marley Shelton) walks into the diner where Rusty is eating and he tells her, without batting an eye, that he loves her, that instinctively he ought to sweep her off her feet and "rescue" her, but that he can't at the moment, because "it's a thing."

Caan also gives ample chunks of the movie over to the very honest relationship between Rusty and his mom. Lynch is very good as the mother -- it's the biggest mother role in recent memory in a movie ostensibly aimed at Generation Y -- and she even gets her own tender, unhurried romance with a shrink played by an enjoyably goofy Jeff Goldblum.

But the movie belongs to Hatosy, in his best role to date, whose Rusty is by turns child-like and wise-beyond-his-years, imploding with sadness and rage.

"Dallas 362" overstays its welcome by a bit, but keeps introducing new characters along the way to keep things fresh. (Freddy Rodriguez's turn as a Cuban shyster with a "Scarface" accent is particularly memorable.) And in pic's final moments, there's an unexpected emotional pull.

Widescreen cinematography by Phil Parmet has a day-dreamy haze that captures L.A. very well. The superb opening titles (by Howie Nourmand) are further proof that such sequences are the true renaissance art at the movies nowadays.

The Onion A.V. Club review  Scott Tobias


Jigsaw Lounge (Neil Young) review [7/10]                               


Slant Magazine review  Akiva Gottlieb (Erik Childress) review [4/5]


Film Intuition [Jen Johans]  Deborah Lynn Blumberg


User reviews  from imdb Author: Bruce Coughran from Santa Monica, CA


The Village Voice [Joshua Land]


CompuServe (Harvey S. Karten) review


Critical Culture [Pacze Moj]


Time Out review


BBC Talking Movies [Scott Andrews]


Austin Chronicle (Marjorie Baumgarten) review [3/5]

The New York Times (Dana Stevens) review

Cabrera Infante, Guillermo – film writer


A Scattered Homage to Guillermo Cabrera Infante  Victor Fowler Calzada from Rouge


Cacoyannis, Michael


Cacoyannis, Michael  from World Cinema

Greek Cypriot film director, also theatre director, editor and producer. After law studies in Britain, Cacoyannis became a producer for the BBC's wartime Greek-language broadcasts, simultaneously attending drama school and acting on stage. He went to Greece in 1952, where he directed his first feature, Kiriakatiko xipnima / Windfall in Athens (1954). He worked with facility in both the theatre and the cinema, directing critically acclaimed films such as Stella (1955) and To koritsi me ta mavra / The Girl in Black (1956). These films were distinguished by their sensitive treatment of contemporary Greek issues, use of authentic locations and promising new actors (Elli Lambeti, Giorgos Foundas, and Melina Mercouri, who made her screen debut in Stella). With those of Nikos Koundouros, Cacoyannis' films were the first independent Greek productions to attract international attention. In 1962 he directed Ilektra / Electra, the first of a trilogy of adaptations of Euripides tragedies, and in 1964 he achieved international fame with the US production of Zorba the Greek, starring Anthony Quinn and based on the novel by Nikos Kazantzakis. Zorba the Greek remains his biggest success. His next film, The Day the Fish Came Out (1967), an international production, was by comparison an anti-climax. Cacoyannis returned to Greek productions without the results his early career had seemed to promise.

— Thomas Nedelkos, Encylopedia of European Cinema



Greece  (110 mi)  1955 (Jeff Ulmer)


Based on the play Stella with the Red Gloves by Iakovos Kambanellis, and noted as the first Greek film to gain international attention, Michael Cacoyannis' (Zorba The Greek) 1955 feature Stella follows the passions of a popular young bouzouki café performer who refuses her traditional role as a woman in Greek society.

We are introduced to the main character, Stella (Melina Mercouri), as a woman who enjoys the effect she has on men. Her opening scene displays a performance at the club where she works, as she prances about while singing a seductive song to the backing of a bouzouki ensemble. Her current boyfriend Aleko (Alekos Alexandrakis) is seen getting a warning from a young girl who objects to Stella's treatment of men—discarding them as she moves on to newer territories. Aleko will do anything for Stella, including buying her the piano she wants. When Aleko tries to get Stella to commit to him, she instead sets her sights on a soccer star name Milto (George Foundas—Never On Sunday, Zorba The Greek), spurning her lover's affections, and driving him to illness with tragic consequences.

As her heated relationship with Milto progresses, Stella eventually falls in love, but when faced with the ultimatum of a marriage proposal, she must decide between her love for Milto, the freedom she loves so much and the imprisonment she fears in marriage. Her decision ultimately seals the fate of both herself and her new lover, as the consequences of love, pride and freedom fall into place.

The film itself is frequented by high energy musical pieces, fueled by the frantic bouzouki music (written by Manos Hatzidakis) that provides much of the soundtrack. Shot in and around Athens, the Greek culture is infused in the film. It won a Golden Globe® for Best Foreign Picture in 1956.

This was Mercouri's (Never On Sunday) first feature film in an emotionally charged role written expressly for her. Following Oscar® and BAFTA nominations and the Cannes prize for Best Actress for her role in Pote tin Kyriaki (1960), Mercouri would go on to become the Greek Minister of Culture responsible for the return of artifacts to her homeland. Here we have her first screen appearance, that featured realistic and passionate love scenes that would have been highly controversial for their time.

The New York Times (Bosley Crowther)


A GIRL IN BLACK (To koritsi me ta mavra)

Greece  (94 mi)  1956


Wade Major from Boxoffice magazine (link lost): 


Best known for 1964's "Zorba The Greek," director Michael Cacoyannis stands tall among the many great European auteurs to emerge in wake of such seminal 1950s movements as the French New Wave and Italian Neo-realism. Clearly influenced by the likes of Truffaut and Rossellini, Cacoyannis' pastoral, character-driven glimpses into the lives and loves of average Greeks remain striking examples of a poetically realistic national cinema that sadly never failed to spark beyond the contributions of its most famous practitioner. Four of Cacoyannis' most renowned works comprise Winstar's "Michael Cacoyannis Collection" on DVD, beginning with 1955's strikingly realistic "Stella," the story of a fiercely independent singer and the two lovers who cannot live without her. In 1956, Cacoyannis' international reputation grew with "A Girl In Black," in which a hard-luck writer finds the small-town atmosphere on a small island to be markedly less than idyllic after he becomes involved with a scorned family. The myth of the wealthy Greek bourgeois is attacked in 1958's "A Matter of Dignity," in which the daughter of a wealthy industrialist finds herself forced to choose between status and love. Having made many of his films on a shoestring budget and with limited resources, Cacoyannis was well-suited to the demands of guerilla documentary filmmaking when, in 1974, he and a crew of two arrived on the island of Cyprus to document the Turkish invasion which resulted in the division that continues to this day. Many consider the resulting film, "Attilla '74: The Rape of Cyprus," to be Cacoyannis' most heartfelt and heart-breaking work. As a set, the four DVDs represent an important piece of post-war European cinema's complex tapestry of styles and subjects, all the more compelling in view of how few films from the period deal with Greek culture and politics in any way at all. In fact, choosing any single one of them for distinction is virtually impossible. Considering the age and condition of many of the original elements, all four films feature impressive sound and video, and should really be purchased and viewed as a set.


The New York Times (Bosley Crowther)


WINDFALL IN ATHENS (Kyriakatiko xypnima)

Greece  (95 mi)  1955


from the New York Times (link lost):

If Saturday's new import at the Cameo is any criterion, Greek films have taken a decided turn for the better. At any rate, the pleasant, if trifling, little romantic comedy called "Windfall in Athens" deserves a polite welcome after a series of ragged eyesores.

The distributors, Arista Films, announce it as the first Greek entry ever accepted in a European screen festival. Even more interesting is the fact that a 29-year-old stripling named Michael Cacoyanis, who bears watching, both wrote and directed it.

Equipped with rather tentative English titles, the result is pretty reasonable lightweight fun. In a head-on dispute over a winning lottery ticket, a nice young girl and a young musician meet, square off and, to nobody's surprise, we hope, fall in love.

As the warring but smitten protagonists, Elli Lambetti and Dimitri Horn are natural and all too human. But it is the suave charm of Georges Pappas, as a lonely, middleaged lawyer infatuated with Miss Lambetti, that steadies the picture, and redeems some coy, dawdling stretches.

Even so, it's nice to have a good-natured Greek picture with a little technical finesse. Judging by the opening and closing scenes, Athenian sleepers certainly take their time about hitting the floor in the morning. But they do get up.

ELECTRA (Ilektra)

Greece USA  (110 mi)  1962


The New York Times (Bosley Crowther)


 At long last, a worthy screen rendering of a classic Greek drama has been achieved in the film of Euripides' "Electra," which opened at the Beekman yesterday.

Indeed, this pictorial translation of one of the greatest Greek tragedies, produced and directed by Michael Cacoyannis in ancient dress and on locations in Greece, amounts to a brilliant utilization of the cinematic device to transmute the gold of verbal poetry from one to another art form.

Where previous attempts to make movies from the Greek classics have generally mired in the heavy going of too much declamation of the original poetic dialogue, this film avoids that dangerous pitfall by going to the other extreme and swinging wide of a form of presentation that is physically hitched to the structure of the stage.

Clearly, Mr. Cacoyannis knows you can't photograph words, that a medium as visual as motion pictures must not put too much dependence on the ear. Also, he sees that the contours of the drama in the Greek tragedies are so massive and elemental that they may be suggested and impressed upon the eye with a proper and tasteful presentation of graphic images.

Thus, he has made this "Electra" a powerful address to the eyes. He has taken his company outdoors and set it against the countryside, against great sweeping vistas of rugged landscape and eloquent stretches of sky.

The episode of Agamemnon's murder, engineered by his faithless wife in league with her lover, Aegisthus, is played beneath the great empty vault of heaven, so that base immensity of it is awesomely implied. And the torments of their daughter, Electra as she lives with the horror of this deed and her inevitable passion for vengeance, are graphically communicated in the harsh and barren aspects of her home in exile in a peasant's hut.

The inner fires of Electra are also made eloquent by the heroic appearance and performance of Irene Papas in this role. Seldom has a face or conveyance of the human figure so beautifully depicted the nature and the passion of a character as do Miss Papas here. Her eyes and the gestures say quite as much as the few words—the comparatively few words—she has to utter in expressing her grief and pain.

Aleka Catselli as Clytemnestra, the faithless mother, is a graphic figure of poetic contours, too—a glittering, soulless creature, who, in her confrontation scene with Electra, is a strong sense of frigid majesty. And Yannis Fertis, as Orestes, and others complete the superlative performance of the classic role.

A brilliant musical score by Mikis Catodorakis and the camera work of Walter Lassally contributes to what undoubtedly is to be a screen classic.

ZORBA THE GREEK (Alexis Zorbas)

Greece  Great Britain  USA  (142 mi)  1964


Chicago Reader (capsule)  Dave Kehr


Michael Cacoyannis's remake of Auntie Mame, played in Greek drag with Anthony Quinn as a peasant packed with Life Force and Alan Bates as the dried-up British intellectual who learns how to dance and drink ouzo. It's false art of the most deplorable kind, but it has a few fresh moments amid its fuzzy pretensions. Mikis Theodorakis's buzzy score is still a Muzak favorite. With Irene Papas and Lila Kedrova (1964). (Jon Danziger)


How is it possible that Anthony Quinn is not really Greek? His performance in the title role here is iconic, and not just in movie terms—Zorba has become an emblem for all things Hellenic in many respects, the very personification of the modern Greek nation. That's quite a mantle for an actor of even Quinn's charisma to carry, and if Michael Cacoyannis's film of Nikos Kazantzakis's novel occasionally seems a little fleshy and overblown, at its heart is Quinn, in a career-defining role as a character who transcends the very movie in which he appears.

In many respects, Zorba the Greek is structured as a classic coming-of-age story, focusing on Basil, a young Englishman, a bookish sort, returning to his father's land in Crete, to set right the family business. On his journey from the mother country Basil meets up with Zorba, who lives hard and plays hard; Zorba convinces Basil to hire him on, and together they will undertake the business project of resurrecting the fallow logging business. You can probably figure out exactly where the relationship between these two is headed for the next two hours after just a couple of minutes—the buttoned-down younger man with literary aspirations and the earthy, slightly vulgar ethnic older man, close to the land, the free spirit, who will teach his protégé grand lessons about women, about work, about life. There's a certain amount of what Nabokov would summarily dismiss as poshlost, and you've got to have some tolerance for more than a little sentimentality to enjoy the movie.

But if you do, it's a fine old time, and not just because of Quinn. A young Alan Bates plays Basil, an underwritten part that's almost more type than human being; Bates invests him with a gentle soul. And let us not give short shrift to the women of the picture, either. Lila Kedrova is probably the most notable, as Madame Hortense, the patently absurd widow who has buried four husbands; she still holds out hope for love, for Zorba, and can preen a giggle like a coquette when overcome with emotion. Her clothes are ratty in a Blanche Du Bois sort of way and she's severely overrouged; it's easy to make fun of Madame Hortense, and many do. But there's something genuinely moving here, toward the end of the picture especially, and the character's last scenes may put you in mind of Falstaff, or Don Quixote, the comic figure confronting the great mystery of life.

Equally compelling, in a more understated and downright smoldering performance, is Irene Papas as the unnamed local widow, dangerously alluring to the men of the village, with a special energy between her and the young Englishman. With not many words or scenes, Papas conveys the emotional wounds of the character, in a performance in the manner of Anna Magnani. Zorba wants to school Basil in the lessons of courtship, and knows in his heart that the widow is the proper object of his student's amorous advances; no good comes of this, however, and we soon realize that we don't know very much about the ways of the village; neither does Basil; and, apparently, neither does Cacoyannis, which is a major deficiency in the filmmaking.

The man-as-force-of-nature thing is a favorite motif here (Zorba rails at the topography: "You bastard mountain!"), but it's forgivable if only for the spectacle of Zorba dancing. He's not graceful, exactly, but his dance is some sort of primal expression, combining athleticism, power, drive, sexuality, clumsiness. Zorba admits himself that there's nothing delicate about him, and there isn't much delicate about his movie, either—but when Quinn dances with ferocity, and even teaches the buttoned-down Bates some of his steps, the scenes can be transporting. DVD review [Kim Morgan]


Turner Classic Movies   Jeremy Arnold


DVD Savant (Glenn Erickson)   also seen here:  Turner Classic Movies


eFilmCritic Reviews  Slyder


Brilliant Observations on 1173 Films [Clayton Trapp]


DVD Verdict  Bill Treadway - DVD Review  Scott C


Classic Film Guide (capsule)


The New York Times (Bosley Crowther)


ATTILA ’74:  THE RAPE OF CYPRUS (Attilas '74)

Greece  (103 mi)  1975 (Dale Dobson)


Director Michael Cacoyannis' documentary Attila '74: The Rape of Cyprus chronicles the 1974 Turkish invasion of Cyprus, facilitated in part by the military junta that came to power in the 1960's by exploiting many Cypriots' desire to unite with neighboring Greece. The film consists largely of interviews, oral history hot off the press—Cacoyannis rushed to Cyprus with a small crew (himself, a cameraman and a sound engineer) to record the immediate aftermath of the invasion. The film is in English and Greek with "burned-in" English subtitles (subject to occasional typographical errors) that can't be turned off.

Cacoyannis gained an impressive level of access to political figures for his film, who share their recollections of and theories about the invasion. Archbishop Makarios, onetime President of Cyprus, tells of the junta's efforts to reduce his influence by falsely announcing his death, and an interview with a member of the junta government poses some pointed questions. Political background is discussed—the junta apparently planned to split Cyprus with Turkey, and references are made to collusion by US CIA forces and Henry Kissinger, though these theories aren't explored deeply.

But the political aspects of the situation do not dominate Attila '74. This is an intensely personal documentary—native Cypriot Cacoyannis made it his mission to document the human cost of the brief war in his homeland. Unflinching interviews describe families destroyed and homes lost, and the camera records refugees' grief and desperate searches for lost and missing family members. Cyprus' cultural museum is shown with its glass cases empty, centuries of history lost or destroyed by the conflict that lost significant parts of Cyprus to Turkey. In one difficult-to-watch scene, a young boy recounts the fates of his siblings and parents, gradually losing his emotional composure as he relives an extremely traumatic experience.

As a documentary, Attila '74 provides enough historical background to set the stage, but its chief strength is its "you are there" quality. Shot while the tragedy was still unfolding, the film is free of academic distance, diagrams, and "expert" overanalysis. Instead, Cacoyannis provides a disturbing, vivid look at how one nation's politics nearly destroyed its own population and culture.


Tall Armenian Tale

Cadigan, John


PEOPLE SAY I’M CRAZY                         B                     85

USA  (84 mi)  2003


At the urging of his film-oriented sister, the director uses film as therapy to document his own attempts to recover from schizophrenia, including acute catatonic episodes where he is frozen and can’t move, too fearful of the paranoia which envelops him, rarely able to leave his own home.  After several institutionalizations and unsuccessful electro-shock treatments, the realization that he may never recover and may have to spend the rest of his life in a dreary group home leaves him hopeless and emotionally devastated.  We see sessions with his therapist, interactions with his brother and two sisters, as well as his mother, all of whom try to be supportive, but they can’t penetrate his wall of delusions where he constantly feels people are out to get him and do him harm.  Despite moments of clarity where he happily works in an art studio, we see his horrible daily struggle of always believing the worst, filled with violent mental images that continuously haunt him, especially during his morning dread, where he feels he may lose the battle and may actually cause others harm, then tries to convince himself that what he’s thinking is not true, yet he feels exasperated and suicidal at what continually passes through his mind, worn down from the futility of trying to control these thoughts.  His life improves somewhat with new medicine, which offers him small hopes, but he gains 100 pounds as a side effect.  While the film is raw, amateurish, and cinematically uneven, sometimes feeling overly clinical, it does present an ultimately frank and honest portrait of living with schizophrenia, sharing views and experiences we don’t normally see, capturing some extraordinarily personal moments, where bleakness is balanced with upbeat, almost tribal music written by Evelyn Glennie that matches the imagery in some of his artwork.       


Caetano, Israel Adrián


CHRONICLE OF AN ESCAPE (Crónica de una fuga)           B+                   90

aka:  Buenos Aires, 1977

Argentina  (103 mi)  2006


Using oblique camera angles, bleached out colors, and extreme close ups to heighten the sense of disorientation, there is a documentary style gritty realism to this adaptation of the autobiographical novel, Pase Libre, which tells the real life story of the 1977-78 kidnapping and torture of Argentinean professional soccer goalie Claudio Tamburinni (played by Rodrigo De la Serna) by ultra-right Argentinean para-military troops that rounded up suspected leftist citizens, blindfolded and secretly shackled them in captivity for months at a time in urban detention centers, basically abandoned homes in out of the way locations, interrogating and torturing them in a brutal attempt to gain access to any opposition network. 


Though not a political activist, Tamburinni was suspected and held captive anyway.  The film is a searing depiction of the daily psychological trauma inflicted on these young lives, attempting to break them down into compliant confessors, promising if they cooperate they will be freed quickly, yet they are held for months at a time, then one by one, individuals are “transferred” to unspecified locations, and a new round of prisoners are brought in.  Told they will be freed, we see lines of prisoners tied together who are given injections before they are led away to waiting cars never to be seen again.  Some 30,000 citizens went missing during this time period, and most if not all were presumably killed. 


We come to realize one house is filled with rooms of captives, each isolated and alone, until eventually all have been disposed of but four remaining prisoners.  This film closely follows those four prisoners who were blindfolded, beaten, stripped naked and chained to beds, yet somehow managed to escape through a locked window, which, once opened, changes the entire texture of the film, creating an extreme degree of tautly constructed tension.  To its credit, the film never shows acts of physical mutilation, but we see the cuts, burned scars and black marks that riddle their bodies, leaving them looking like near corpses when they finally run naked into the streets, where strangers peer at them like they’re the problem.  The final images of the film are hauntingly beautiful, adding a poetic release to this pressurized, tightly constricted work, cinematography by Julián Apezteguia and music by Iván Wyszogrod.  Three of these prisoners eventually testified in the 1985 National Commission on the Disappearance of Persons, which led to the sentencing of five retired generals and admirals to prison terms for human rights abuses committed during the so-called "Dirty War."


Chronicle of an Escape   Nick Pinkerton from the Village Voice


A Soccer Player’s Ordeal in an Argentine Prison   Stephen Holden from The New York Times


Cahill, Mike


ANOTHER EARTH                                                 B-                    82

USA  (92 mi)  2011


This is another example of once you’ve seen the trailer, you’ve seen too much, as nearly the entire story is revealed in a highly condensed two minutes, leaving little suspense left in the theater, as you already know what to expect.   From the outset, however, it should be said that the high definition look leaves something to be desired, as the colors and focus aren’t there, while the jiggling camera movement suggests unsteady hands, all contributing to a grainy, somewhat washed out look of video, making it look very much like it was made on a shoestring budget of $150,000.  However, it does try to make the most with the least, using a minimum of plot development, continually using the power of suggestion to keep the appetites whetted.  Basically it’s a one note effort, as the entire film is about the initial premise, the mysterious arrival of an identical mirror planet Earth right next to our own, called Earth 2, where duplicate versions of ourselves live their lives exactly as we’ve lived our own, where they have the exact same thoughts and lives as we’ve had.  While the story is slow getting started, and is a bit preposterous to buy into, knowing the gravitational effect that the moon has on our planet, so imagine the effects of a planet as large as our own staring back at us in the sky?  Instead, the filmmaker shows multiple shots of people walking down the streets, or on the sidewalks in front of their homes, or next to the ocean, projecting Earth 2 in the sky as our constant companion.  Often people stop and literally stare into the sky to express their newly discovered interest.  Years after this happens, yes, one must repeat, as it takes literally years for the two planets to make contact and realize they are mirror planets, where another version of ourselves lives up there.  One wonders if their lives are any better than our own? 


There is a secondary story that is told simultaneously, one that involves actors instead of planets, where Brit Marling plays 17-year old Rhoda, a high school senior who has just been accepted into the M.I.T astrophysics program on the night the new planet is discovered, staring into the sky while driving, causing a horrific accident, killing a pregnant wife and her children, leaving the husband in a lengthy coma.  Rather than go to college, Rhoda is sent to prison for 4 years, where our earth is just making contact with the new planet by the time she gets out.  Instead of filling a position designed to utilize her attributes, Rhoda wants little social contact, where she is still burying her head in the sand after the accident, and decides to get a job working as the high school janitor.  Again, where there would likely be close to a dozen janitors or more, this school only has two, where she can be seen hiding her face under her hood and wearing a wool cap, where one imagines she may be too attractive to fit the role, but she’s also a co-writer along with the director, so she can do what she wants with the part.  She googles articles about the accident and learns the address of the surviving father, now out of his coma, and decides to confront him, expressing her sympathy for his loss, but instead offers herself as available maid service, showing up weekly to clean his house which is mostly filled with empty liquor bottles.  What she expects to accomplish from this can’t lead to anything good, but that issue is set aside for nearly the entire film, just waiting to appear again at some point.  So there is something of a cringe factor involved at seeing her return to the scene of the crime week after week and lie about her presence, becoming something of a stalker, taking advantage of a man she doesn’t even know. 


Of course, the movie sees it somewhat differently, overlooking all of the previous history, including the jail time, where there are no therapists, no parole officers, no help offered from any source except a single corporation that is offering one lucky winner the chance to fly free to the other planet based on an essay contest.  Rhoda, of course, sends in an essay before she ever meets John (William Mapither), who slowly takes an interest in his new maid, eventually sobering up and realizing she even has a name.  Quite surprised at her intelligence, he immediately falls for her, no surprise there, yet she’s still the stalker woman lying about her reasons for being there, even after they enter into a sexual liaison, where for many in the audience, this has really gone on too far.  The film seems to take pleasure in overlooking the credibility factor, thinking Marling can sell the story, which for the most part she does, as she’s excellent in the role, especially in the way she never comes to terms with this single event in her life, something perhaps many can relate to.  She gets a lot of mileage with her hangdog, sheepish expression, using little dialogue, just solitary images of her with Earth 2 hovering just overhead.  But it all has to come to a head some way, some day.  There’s no way anyone could predict the outcome, as the multitude of possibilities coming in contact with a duplicate of everything that exists on Earth is simply mind boggling, so there’s a lot to play with.  The film offers a series of radio and TV broadcasts announcing the latest developments with this new planet, where one wonders if Rhoda being offered the chance at a new life there would do her any good, as that’s a long way to go to run away from the problems that exist here, suggesting there’s a duality that exists in all our feelings, good and bad, where every impulse generates a little bit of both.  All these questions and more are asked by the film which does a good job keeping the audience guessing.  Perhaps the most positive effect is the upbeat electronic music from the electro-rock band Fall On Your Sword, which brings the end credits down in style.


Mini Reviews (July 2011) - Reviews by David Nusair - Reel Film Reviews

It's certainly not difficult to envision certain viewers walking away from Another Earth frustrated and annoyed, as the movie, which is essentially being marketed as a sci-fi fantasy, primarily comes off as a low-key drama revolving around two thoroughly damaged characters. Brit Marling, in a revelatory performance, stars as Rhoda Williams, an aspiring scientist whose life changes drastically after she's sent to prison for vehicular manslaughter - with the film subsequently detailing Rhoda's efforts at atoning for the deaths by helping William Mapother's John Burroughs, who lost his wife and child in the crash, get his life back together. (There is, of course, also a subplot revolving around the discovery of a second, seemingly identical Earth in our atmosphere.) It's clear right from the outset that director Mike Cahill, working from a script co-written with Marling, has virtually no interest in exploring the narrative's science-fiction-oriented elements, as the filmmaker places a predominant (and continuous) emphasis on Rhoda's almost extraordinarily subdued exploits - from her day job as a high-school janitor to her ongoing visits with Mapother's unbalanced character. There's little doubt, then, that Another Earth owes its mild success primarily to the riveting performances from its two leads, as both Marling and Mapother manage to transform their admittedly familiar characters into fully-developed and consistently-compelling figures. The sporadic inclusion of otherworldly elements - eg an engrossing, goosebump-inducing sequence involving first contact with the title locale - goes a long way towards compensating for the screenplay's pervasively uneventful sensibilities, and though the payoff for the Earth 2 subplot is, to put it mildly, far from spectacular (ie what does that final shot mean, exactly?), Another Earth ultimately establishes itself as a perfectly watchable indie that benefits from the stellar efforts of its stars.

Hollywood Jesus [Darrel Manson]

Another Earth poses a hypothetical with philosophical overtones. Suppose in the variety of universes that are theorized, there is one that has an Earth just like ours. Would things play out there the same way they have played out here? Would all things have evolved the same? Would all the decisions be made exactly the same? Basically, would the causes always bring the same effect? Is everything determined?

In the film Rhoda Williams has just finished high school and will be headed to MIT since she has always been fascinated with the heavens. While driving home after a night of partying she hears a report on the radio about the discovery of a new planet very close by. As she tries to locate it, she causes a terrible accident. In a moment her dreams are gone, and she has destroyed the life of John Burroughs, who survived the crash but lost his son and pregnant wife.

A few years later when Rhoda gets out of jail, she seeks out a life of solitude, taking a job as a school janitor. She lives joylessly, as if she had vowed to never let happiness into her life again. She seeks John out to apologize, but loses her courage and creates a story of providing a trial housecleaning. Soon she is cleaning his house each week, forming a relationship with him, but one that is built on a lie that she cannot reveal. There is a sense of penance in her work cleaning the mess of his house, even though she cannot clean up the mess she has made of his life.

In the meantime, it has become clear that this new planets—getting closer and closers—is another earth. When radio contact is made, the people who talk to each other have the same name and same life storys—down to minute details. So here is a world that is a mirror of our own. What would it be like to meet your counterpart on Earth 2? Would he/she be the same as you? Would they have made the same mistakes? Might Rhoda find some redemption if she could go to Earth 2? When a billionaire runs a contest for someone to be included on the first commercial trip to Earth 2, Rhoda enters.

While the film falls under the category of science fiction, it is much more about the relationship that develops between John and Rhoda. We know it is doomed because of the lie it is based on, but is there a way that these two broken lives can find healing? Will the possibility of a mirror world provide the deliverance they both so badly need?

This film is dark and brooding, reflecting what Rhoda's life has become. She is burdened by the weight of her mistake. She yearns for forgiveness, but may not believe it is really possible. Certainly she is unwilling to forgive herself, which may be one reason she is unwilling to tell John the truth. Maybe Earth 2 offers her a chance to run from the guilt, but if it is a mirror, will she discover that her Earth 2 self is just as broken as she is?

We are asked to consider some of the repercussions of having a mirror world. What happens when the two intersect? Does knowing there is a mirror world affect the two worlds the same? Plato's parable of the cave is referenced in the film as a warning, but is knowing the truth ever wrong? Is that the issue with Earth 2 or with John and Rhoda? The film works itself to a conclusion that creates more questions than answers. We are left with the freedom to consider what that conclusion means.

Another Earth | Captain America | Sarah's Key | Another Earth ...  Joe Morgenstern from The Wall Street Journal

If you want to be literal-minded about it—I don't—here's the most obvious problem with "Another Earth": The planet of the title, an apparent duplicate of our own, has suddenly appeared in the sky and just floats there serenely at a safe remove, as if the law of gravity had been repealed. Other far-fetched notions turn up regularly; this small-scale film has more outsize ideas than it could possibly manage. Yet Mike Cahill's debut feature exerts a gravitational pull out of proportion to its size through powerful performances, a lyrical spirit, a succession of arresting images and a depth of conviction that sweeps logic aside.

Exactly what that extraterrestrial Terra represents is hard to pin down—a way of looking at ourselves, a chance to rerun our lives with different outcomes. String theory suggests the existence of infinite numbers of movies inspired by the notion of alternate universes, and this is one of them. Still, the presence of what comes to be called Earth 2 is incidental to a human story that plays out on Earth 1, and the cosmic overtones are less impressive than the emergence of a startlingly fine young actress named Brit Marling.

Ms. Marling, who wrote the script with Mr. Cahill and served as one of the producers, has not been widely known on this planet until now, but that's about to change. She plays Rhoda Williams, a former student of great intelligence and boundless promise who buries herself in menial labor to atone for having done something dreadful and presumably irreversible. William Mapother—he made a relatively small role memorable in "In the Bedroom"—is John Burroughs, a composer whose life has been devastated by something dreadful and presumably irreversible. Does this sound dreadfully formulaic? It is, but it also isn't, because the actors and their director invest almost every moment with spellbinding urgency, even when Rhoda and John are having spontaneous fun—a lively interlude turns on video boxing—or starting to light up each others' lives.

Until now Mr. Cahill has been mainly a cinematographer on nature films and a director of documentaries. Like Ms. Marling, who has co-directed documentaries with him, he studied economics at Georgetown. (She was also an investment-banking analyst at Goldman Sachs, which proves the infinite unpredictability of career paths.) I don't know where either of them learned their spare, specific approach to drama, but it's a pleasure to see how the acting anchors a tale that might otherwise have spun off, weightless, into realms celebrated by Carl Sagan.

Take the scene in which Ms. Marling tells a story, in her musical voice, about a Russian cosmonaut. It's only a story, and a slender one at that, but it becomes a demonstration of the storyteller's art that starts slowly and intimately, pulls you in, picks up speed and ends in a blaze of elation. In one of Mr. Mapother's surprising turns, he plays a soul-filling solo on a musical saw. The tones may have been electronically enhanced, but the scene, like so many others, keeps you watching intently.

I don't want to oversell "Another Earth." A few passages, like one involving a venerable janitor, feel downright pretentious, while the mysterious apparition of Earth 2 promises a profundity that doesn't pay off. (And when Rhoda and John peer at the nearby planet through an amateur telescope, why in this world don't they open the window to see it more clearly?) All the same, a small, smart movie that keeps you watching intently is a big deal.

SBS Film [Michelle Orange]


Can Brit Marling Shine Bright Enough to Carry ... - Village Voice  Karina Longworth


REVIEW: Another Earth Isn't One You'd Want to Visit | Movieline  S.T. VanAirsdale from Movieline


Bitchin' Film Reviews [Blake Griffin]


The Independent Critic [Richard Propes]


FilmFracture: What's Your Time Worth? [Kathryn Schroeder]


Another Earth | Film | Movie Review | The A.V. Club  Tasha Robinson, including an interview with the director July 22, 2011 here:  Mike Cahill | Film | Interview | The A.V. Club


The Daily Rotation [Jeremy Lebens]


Another Earth Review | The Recipe to Getting Sundance to ... - Pajiba  Seth Freilich at Sundance


Movie Review: Another Earth: Sister from Another ... - Time Magazine  Mary Pols  Chris Cabin


Slant Magazine [Jesse Cataldo]


Fantasia 2011: ANOTHER EARTH Review  Kurt Halfyard [Kate Erbland]


The MacGuffin [Brandi Sperry]


Another Earth : DVD Talk Review of the Theatrical  Tyler Foster from DVD Talk [Adam Schartoff] [Dustin Putman]


exclaim! [Scott A. Gray]


Movie Smackdown! [Eric Volkman] | Another Earth - Not Coming to a Theater Near You  Katherine Follett


Another Earth : DVD Talk Review of the Theatrical  Brian Orndorf from DVD Talk


FlickDirect [Marco Chacon] 


Cinema Verdict [Marco Duran]  also seen here:  The Critical Movie Critics [M. Duran]


Movie Review - Another Earth - eFilmCritic  Jay Seaver


CompuServe [Harvey Karten]


Spout [Christopher Campbell]


Quiet Earth


Daily Film Dose [Alan Bacchus]


Another Earth | Review | Screen  John Hazelton from Screendaily


Another Earth — Inside Movies Since 1920 - Box Office Magazine  Ray Greene


Twitch [Aaron Krasnov]


'Another Earth': A Thoughtful Sci-Fi Romance -- Without Aliens  Leah Rozen from The Wrap


MovieBuzzers [Melissa Hanson] [Benny Gammerman]


A Short Synopsis of Film [Ron Shaker]


Variety Reviews - Another Earth - Film Reviews - - Review by ...  Justin Chang


'Another Earth' review: Quiet film, big questions  Amy Biancolli from The SF Chronicle


Another Earth Review | 'Another Earth': Review - Los Angeles Times  Betsy Sharkey


Another Earth - Roger Ebert - Chicago Sun-Times


Another Earth - Movies - New York Times  Manohla Dargis

How to Succeed in Hollywood Despite Being Really Beautiful   Emma Rosemblum on actress Brit Marling from The New York Times, June 24, 2011


Callahan, Peter


AGAINST THE CURRENT                                   B                     87

USA  Netherlands  (99 mi)  2009           click here


A small little American indie film that’s a bit off the beaten track, that thrives in its own eccentricities, and that is ultimately a road journey with potentially exasperating consequences.  With a notable cast that continually finds humor and something altogether refreshing in the poignancy of small moments, this might be described as the anti-Huck Finn adventure, as much of it is spent with two friends trailing in a boat behind a swimmer who is attempting to swim the length of the Hudson River from Troy to the New York City harbor.   While his rationale eventually unfolds, initially Paul (Joseph Fiennes) convinces two friends in a bar that it would make a nice, picturesque vacation, from his bartender best friend Jeff, the phenomenal Justin Kirk, who sees it as an excuse to get away from his nagging wife, and Liz, Elizabeth Reaser, who simply happened to be sitting at the bar at the time, thinking it would be a good opportunity for all to visit her family for one evening along the way.  Unlike David Lynch’s STRAIGHT STORY (1999) which taps into the unusual rhythms and patterns of ordinary life, offering wisdom through a myriad of diverse characters, for most of the way this film pretty much sticks with the three people, where over time we come to know them intimately. 


Downbeat Joseph Fiennes couldn’t be more different than the enlivened and invigorated character he played in SHAKESPEARE IN LOVE (1998) where he was, well…in love and in the flush of life.  Here he’s still immersed in the grief of losing his wife and child in an accident that occurred five years ago, where after indulging in shrinks and therapy and after the passage of time, he still feels mortified at the thought of losing them (Of note – the director lost the mother of his child the day after giving birth).  Swimming the Hudson is a goal he always had in the back of his mind, but he approaches this as if it will be the major accomplishment of his life.  Still, with little or no preparation, and a guy who continues to chain smoke throughout the ordeal, one might find some of this questionable.  But their methods might surprise, as they spend the evenings on shore and occasionally take breaks, so it’s not a true marathon, extending the 150 miles to several weeks.  The true hero of this trio appears to be Jeff, the wise-cracking friend who is just shockingly good in the role, a self-deprecating failed actor whose deep-seeded sarcasm offers up some of the best quips in the movie, a highly entertaining role that continually keeps the audience off guard.  Liz on the other hand is quieter and more comforting, playing the nurturing female role in a much more indirect manner, but it’s her dysfunctional family that they eventually visit. 


In her most exhilarating performance in decades, probably since her dour appearance in ORDINARY PEOPLE (1980), Mary Tyler Moore is off-the-wall hilarious in this film as Liz’s prying mother, who offers motherly advice to everyone while pointing out the scandalous gossip about all the people who live in the grand mansions they are passing on the drive to her home.  Their dinner together is atypically brief, not a long drawn out affair, but what happens after dinner is when things start to get interesting.  Michelle Trachtenberg’s little sister role is memorable, as her sardonically dry sense of humor seems to blend well with Jeff’s increasingly morose mood, a perfect compliment to Moore’s incredibly bubbly mood, where she’s like a wind up doll that’s continually wound up, cocktail in hand, always in such good spirits, even in the morning as she drives them back to the water.  There’s a bit of goofball comedy here, but also a few quiet intimate moments that register with the audience, opening up a few doors of possibilities.  Using a nice mixture of pathos and humor, the film dances around the big questions about friendship and love through evasion and dark humor, where the spaces between people (and the audience) can be a good thing or a weight crushing down, where sometimes it’s hard to gauge.  This film seems to have found the right note. 


Special Note – supporting actor Justin Kirk, supporting actress Mary Tyler Moore 

User comments  from indb Author: nhpbob from Kew Gardens, NY

This under-the-radar film about a guy who swims a good length of the Hudson River in NY State down to NYC, is one of those warm indie films that deftly balances drama with some humor. No surprise that it snagged actors like Joseph Fiennes, Elizabeth Reaser (adding another fine performance to her growing career since her debut in the great "SWEET LAND"), Justin Kirk, Michelle Trachtenberg, and Mary Tyler Moore in a notable supporting role.

The reason behind his swim I won't divulge here, but it makes for some powerful moments. As he swims, his 2 friends go along with him in a guide boat, and they come to shore for breaks, which leads to some great moments in the film. It's not all on the water. But when it is, it's riveting. As a viewer, I felt like I was swimming right there with him at times.

And the swimming scenes show off the wonderful Hudson Valley, and Joseph Fiennes looks like he the plunge. That's really him in the water. Kudos to the filmmakers who must've been on the river an awful lot. (And to the camera people!) Hopefully this film finds its audience in other film festivals and in a future release.

Zoom-In Online [Jim Rohner]  at Sundance 

Everyone deals with grief differently.  Responses are relative to the people who experience it: some people push through it, some people repress it, some people let it consume them, and some people, well, some people honor it.  We may all have different views on which way is right and which ways are wrong and that's all well and good when it comes to how we respond when the grief hits us.  But, what happens when we're just spectators?  How are we supposed to respond when grief hits those closest to us and we find ourselves at odds with those we care about?  Suddenly, that which we held to be true and immovable is shaken by the love and dedication we feel towards a friend who is in turn immovable.  This is the dilemma that arises in Peter Callahan's Against the Current, the writer/director's second-time feature, which asks us how far our loyalties to our friends will go.  Though the film deals with some dark subject matter, Callahan ensures that it never gets bogged down in melancholy or insensitivity.  Instead, his luscious cinematography and the gallows humor enacted through leads Joseph Fiennes and Justin Kirk add an unexpected light-heartedness and tranquility to a film that would otherwise be irrevocably bleak and morally black and white. 

Paul Thompson (Fiennes) has been struggling with the death of his wife and child for years, overcome with a grief he can't shake.   Apathetic about his job and unable to feel anything but numb in relationships, he decides it's time to come to terms with his loss the only way he knows how.  To honor and remember the five year anniversary of his wife's death, he decides to swim the length of the Hudson River, all 315 miles of it from Troy, New York to the New York Harbor, planning to reach his goal exactly five years to the day.  To accomplish this task he enlists the help of his best friend Jeff Kane (Kirk), a bartender who'll take any excuse to get away from his crumbling marriage, and new friend Liz Clarke (Elizabeth Reaser), a school teacher looking to waste some time before the new semester starts.  Purchasing a rickety boat, the three coast down the Hudson one day at a time, sleeping on the river's banks and trying to avoid the rain.  Everything is going swimmingly, literally and figuratively, until Jeff suddenly remembers why Paul has chosen now to honor the death of his wife and Liz gradually begins to realize her feelings for him.  As the journey commences, Jeff and Liz both attempt to re-convince Paul of the decision he has made, struggling to reconcile the idea that to love Paul is to both try and protect him and also to respect his decisions and appreciate his situation.

What kind of sacrifices would friends make for other friends?  Would or should friends forego their own moral convictions to respect the wishes of someone they love so much?  These are the questions that Against the Current poses and allows the audience to answer.  Though the film presents one possible answer, Callahan avoids pretentious preachiness in favor of one viewpoint or another and this allows healthy discussion to flourish.  Part of what makes the exploration of grief and tragedy a worthwhile one is the gallows humor within the script.  Though the tone of the film is markedly mellow and often morose, the comedy neither detracts from nor interrupts the solemn meditation.  Instead, it helps create a healthy rapport between the main characters, played to a dry perfection by both Fiennes and Kirk.  Beneath the sarcastic banter and straight-faced quips is a rational dialogue about life and death that asks for nothing but an open and understanding ear from all listeners. 

Tying the film and the cast together is the character that goes mostly unnamed, but cannot be ignored: the Hudson River.  As diverse in landscape, scope, and aesthetics as the country in which it flows, the views from the river are breath-takingly beautiful.  Whether at golden hour, brightest noon, or rainy morning, the cinematography of Sean Kirby is tranquil like the water and is celebratory of the beauty of the life that surrounds the characters, whether that beauty opens the eyes of those who have never noticed it before or acts as a welcome end note for those who have forgotten it.

Screen International review  Tim Grierson


The Hollywood Reporter  Kirk Honeycutt 


Variety (Justin Chang) review


Camerini, Michael and Shari Robertson


LAST BEST CHANCE                                           C                     74

aka:  The Senator’s Bargain 

USA  (100 mi)  2010      Official site


Part of a 12 segment piece of television journalism called How Democracy Works Now, this is a film largely for history buffs only, people who are interested in seeing the legislative process develop through a series of closed door, offscreen, backroom Senate sessions of supposedly bipartisan horse trading from the perspective of those who are just outside the legislative chambers, who spend all their time analyzing and evaluating discussions of which they were not a part, and then having to devise various national strategies on what to do next.  As seen through the eyes of a group of lobbyists working to provide justice reforms for immigrants, who work closely with Massachusetts Senator Edward Kennedy, this material is entirely outdated and consists exclusively of 4-year old news, following the proceedings of an attempt at Immigration reform in 2006 during the Bush Administration, where initially Arizona Republican Senator John McCain and Kennedy worked out a bipartisan outline of a restructuring of the Immigration Act, which was Senator Kennedy’s first piece of legislation that he helped pass during his initial year in the Senate in 1965, a reform that opened up the doors and allowed a much more diverse population to enter the country legally, mostly consisting of lower wage scale workers and their families.  Since 9/11, however, the Bush Administration was pushing to shift the priorities to border enforcement, where more money would be spent to prevent immigrants from coming in and on deportation proceedings, while Kennedy was recognizing the worth of those 12 million working families who were undocumented, attempting to offer them a path to legalization, where they would not have to hide in the shadows any more subject to the wrenching family divisions where U.S. born children are separated from their undocumented parents, who could at any moment be whisked away on a plane out of the country.  Many of these kinds of cases were making headlines as the Bush Administration was stepping up more raids both at places of employment and in the family homes, where getting tough on immigration was the latest Republican strategy.         


Since all of this takes place four years before the film was released, there’s an odd sense of time displacement, as the shape of the world has changed considerably since this was filmed, even as it was being filmed, so while the issues being outlined are certainly relevant, the arguments have shifted away from Kennedy’s views, where since his death, there is no one left to champion his position.  With a Democrat in the White House, the tone on Federal immigration raids is considerably more low key.  However, when McCain chose to run for the White House in 2007, his views on Immigration became more partisan, all but taking the bill off the table.  But the White House brought it back along with another Republican co-sponsor, the other Arizona Republican Senator, Jon Kyl, who pushed the border enforcement issue and also a radical change in the point system, where immigrants already speaking English were given as much as 5 times higher priority, basically excluding the African and Latin American populations, where the unspoken word of race creeps back into the picture.  While the Latino leaders are eloquently seen attempting to raise the tone of the argument above racial divisions, they got hammered by the Republican right on Talk Radio and Fox News who labeled the path to citizenship amnesty, which they defined as a get out of jail free card.  On Bill Reilly’s show, conservative pundit Ann Coulter could be seen leveling her denunciating claim:  “Who cares if they’re living in the shadows?  They’re illegal!!” 


While the film does follow the behind-the-scenes actions of well intentioned people who are staunch admirers of Kennedy, who are visibly moved when he makes one of his great oratories on the floor of the Senate in support of the bill, resorting to his “Now is the time, this is the moment” theme, but even as he spoke, the mood of the nation was shifting farther and farther to the right, where non-English speaking immigrants were being associated with terrorists and derogatory stereotypes became the talking points of the Republican Party.  The film all but ignores this changing face of Republicans, where Tea Party advocates don’t even exist yet, but xenophobia is rampant within the foul-mouthed bigots of the nation, heard daily spouting off their venom on Talk Radio, or even at Presidential candidate town hall meetings.  Not to be ignored is the progressive wing of the Democratic Party who continue to believe they are being outflanked by the right, and that’s because they are, as they continue to advocate for positions that have dried up long ago and where they simply don’t have the votes anymore even within their own party.  When Kennedy attempts to navigate intact a compromise bill to passage by cutting off the debate, where those wishing to kill the bill keep offering amendments that are designed to strip the heart of the provisions, history always seems to have the last word.  There’s something terribly sad about seeing Kennedy in such a deteriorating medical state in the latter stages of his life, as his death is not even mentioned.  While the film wears its heart on its sleeve, barely ever enunciating opposing views, instead relying exclusively on advocates focusing on a very narrow field of what would today be seen as progressive social issues.  The movie is depicted as an ascending picture of one more great climb of the mountain, where instead of reaching the mountain top, these little back door discussions that attempt to shape the social fabric of the nation are mere footnotes of an idealized dream that never happened.  


The 9th Annual HUMAN RIGHTS WATCH FILM FESTIVAL  Facets Multi Media

Last Best Chance brilliantly presents a political legend, Senator Edward Kennedy, in his final battle for comprehensive immigration reform in the US. Seeking legislation that he believes would best serve US interests and provide greater security and dignity to many of the 20 million people currently living in the shadows, Senator Kennedy joins forces with talented allies on the outside to marshal fellow Senators, including Obama, Clinton, and McCain toward a "Grand Bargain." However, below the level of strategy and protocol, we find a moral tale of modern American politics. Ted Kennedy, one of a handful of people who through his personal efforts truly changed the face of America, is forced to decide how much he wants this deal and what he is willing to trade for his greatest legacy.

Human Rights Watch Film Festival 2010: Last Best Chance  Elise Nakhnikian from The House Next Door, also seen here at Girls Can Play, June 21, 2010:  A Movie a Day, day 36: Last Best Chance  

Another documentary about the foiled fight for U.S. immigration reform from How Democracy Works Now, Last Best Chance delivers the message that was missing from the other film from this series that's playing at the Human Rights Watch festival. Mountains and Clouds zooms in so tightly on the macro view of the fight to pass or derail a relatively small piece of legislation that we never learn what motivates the fighters, but Last Best Chance takes the wide-angle view.

Directors Shari Robertson and Michael Camerini and editor Jane Rizzo lay out the stakes this time with admirable clarity and impact, starting with a prologue that explains the need for immigration reform. The filmmakers aren't above using PowerPoint-style lists or that honeyed, voice-of-reason voiceover that I found so annoying in both films, but they don't resort to those often. For the most part, they stitch together powerful snippets of conversation, speeches, and lectures by eloquent and impassioned people.

The bill being debated this time around is the mother of them all: comprehensive immigration reform. The film starts with the debate over the film introduced by senators Ted Kennedy and John McCain in May 2007, then follows the fight as it gets really down and dirty after the right-wing Republican talk-radio and TV talking-points machine shreds its basic premises. (Sneering at the bill's effort to bring undocumented immigrants "out of the shadows" on Bill O'Reilly's show, Ann Coulter says: "Who cares if they're living in the shadows? They're illegal!")

We also hear from political heavy-hitters like then-Senator Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, Lou Dobbs, and a kinder, gentler McCain, who reads from a newspaper account about the terrible deaths suffered by undocumented workers in the Arizona desert. But the star of this show is Kennedy. Visibly weakening as shooting progresses, though no mention is made of his illness, he's the white-haired knight credited with having "made us a multi-ethnic, multicultural society" with the immigration bill he championed in 1965, an effort he is determined to build on now.

Kennedy is everywhere, cajoling and praising his staff, telling them war stories, and explaining the art of riding the Senate's ever-changing political tides. He also makes some of the most stirring and eloquent speeches in a film that brims with heartfelt and moving oratory. The best is the one he reads on the Senate floor just before the bill goes up for a vote. Framing the fight for immigration reform as the latest great civil-rights issue, he reminds the Senate that this is about "the family values of people who want to work hard, men and women of faith, people that care about this country and want to be a part of the American dream...Now is the time, this is the place," he thunders. "Are we going to vote for our hopes or are we going to vote for our fears? Are we going to vote for our future or are we going to vote for our past?"

As in Mountains and Clouds, the filmmakers are good at detailing the politics involved, making even wonky stuff like cloture and "killer amendments" easy to understand. And once again, they get excellent access to key people, though only on the pro-immigration side. I got a little backstage thrill from listening to one of the activists, whose constituency gives him some clout, though he has no official role in the debate, telling Karl Rove "you have kicked our ass from one side of the room to the other" before trying to win back some of the ground the outnumbered Republicans have stolen out from under the Democrats. I'd say that's a pretty vivid lesson in how democracy works now.

They also capture a few small-scale moments that hint at the toll the fight takes on the people involved, like when one of the activists puts her very young-sounding daughter on speaker phone to talk about when she'll get home. "Um, well, there's another big vote at 7:30 tonight," says the mom. "Okay. Well, do you think you can maybe watch it from home?" asks the daughter, who's clearly an old hand at this negotiation. By this point in Last Best Chance, there's no question why a mother would sacrifice dinners with her daughters for the fight over immigration reform, which the filmmakers and their subjects see as nothing less than a fight for the soul and the future of our nation. The directors couldn't resist ending with one of their pious voiceover comments, but I think they could have ended with New York Senator Chuck Schumer. Speaking to the press after the bill was defeated, he says: "When you study why great countries fail, it's because they're unable to deal with the problems facing them. They devolve into petty little disputes and appeals to the lowest common denominator, and those prevail."

Cameron, James


The 'Amazing' James Cameron Page  official website


All-Movie Guide  bio from Nathan Southern


TCMDB  bio from Turner Classic Movies


Film Reference  profile by Chris Routledge


Academy of Achievement  another brief profile


Optimus Films Profile  yet another


Terminator's real daddy | Features | Guardian Unlimited Film a tribute to Stan Winston by James Cameron in the Guardian, November 17, 2006


Sigourney In 3-D | The New York Observer  Sigourney in 3-D, by Sara Vilkomerson from The New York Observer, April 8, 2007


Cameron, James  They Shoot Pictures, Don’t They


New York Film Academy's 20 Great Movie Directors


Premiere's 10 Directors Who Changed Cinema


James Cameron  Adrian Wootton interviews Cameron for the Guardian, April 13, 2003


James Cameron: part II  Adrian Wootton interviews Cameron for the Guardian, April 13, 2003


Newsweek Interview (2007)   by Sean Smith from Newsweek, January 12, 2007



USA  Great Britain  (108 mi)  1984


Chicago Reader on Film  Dave Kehr (earlier version, now re-edited online)


A resourceful low-budget thriller, this 1984 film recalls the kind of canny exploitation work that came out of the old New World Pictures, and the director, James Cameron, is indeed a Roger Corman graduate (Piranha II). Arnold Schwarzenegger is an automated hit man of the future sent back to present-day Los Angeles to eliminate the future mother (Linda Hamilton) of a rebel leader; her only hope is a bashful guerrilla fighter (Michael Biehn) who has followed Schwarzenegger back through time. Cameron's direction of the ensuing chase owes a lot to George Miller and John Carpenter (not to mention Chuck Jones), yet the characterization of the violence has something agonizingly original about it: Schwarzenegger is presented as a lumbering slab of dumb, destructive strength--the image is more geological than human--and Cameron plays his crushing weightiness against the strangely light, almost graceful violence of the gunplay directed against him. The results have the air of a demented ballet. Unfortunately, Cameron is too eager to cover the holes in the script with camped-up line readings: every easy laugh he gets detracts from the project's overall effectiveness. And he doesn't display the sheer pleasure in plastic film technique that makes Miller's and Carpenter's work something more than bluntly visceral experiences. Still, as a souvenir of a kind of B-grade action cinema that has all but vanished, The Terminator should find a small place in the heart of every movie addict. With Paul Winfield. 108 min.


Edinburgh U Film Society [Neil Chue Hong]

The Terminator takes the old paradox of what would happen if you could travel back in time and murder your own grandparents and gives it a new twist as Arnold Schwarzenegger stars in the title role as a cyborg sent back to kill the mother of an important resistance leader of the man-machine wars being fought in the future. Confused? Well even if you don't follow the plot you can marvel at the bravado of director James Cameron who creates an entirely believable, and yet utterly fantastic, battle for the survival of the human race.

As the mother, Linda Hamilton defines a new female film role model - strong, decisive and yet occasionally vulnerable. She is helped by a human sent back in time by the resistance to aid her (the dishy Michael Biehn) but even together they seem to be no match for the awesome killing machine portrayed by Arnie. He is perfectly suited to this role which requires him to be menacing, flex his muscles and say the occasional syllable.

Based (like Terry Gilliam's 12 Monkeys) on the short experimental film La Jetée, it is a warning to those in power today not to forget that our children will inherit our mistakes. It's also extremely good, testosterone-toting fun, as Arnie demolishes buildings etc. in his pursuit of Hamilton. More chillingly violent (as opposed to comic book - reflected in the film's rating) than its successor, including one gruesome home surgery tutorial, the film is liberally dashed with Cameron's audacious visual style, mixing a dark neo-gothic atmosphere with the bright lights of city life. Even if you think you've seen it before, not to be missed.

"A blazing, cinematic comic book, full of virtuoso moviemaking, terrific momentum, solid performances, and a compelling story" - Variety (John Ulmer)  


Turner Classic Movies [Sean Axmaker]


And You Call Yourself a Scientist! (Liz Kingsley)


The Greatest Films (Tim Dirks)


DVD Journal  Alexandra DuPont Special Edition


Dragan Antulov (David Hollands) (Daniel Briney) (Max Messier)


The SF, Horror and Fantasy Film Review  Richard Scheib  John Atkinson (Dan Heaton)   Special Edition


The Digital Bits   Todd Doogan Special Edition


Sci-Fi Weekly   John Sullivan Special Edition


DVD Verdict  Mike Jackson Special Edition


DVDTown [John J. Puccio]  Special Edition


Gods of Filmmaking


The Sci-Fi Movie Page  James O’Ehley


Classic Horror   Nate Yapp


Movie Reviews UK  Damian Cannon


Q Network Film Desk (James Kendrick)


DVD Talk (John Sinnott)   Blue-Ray


The New York Times (Janet Maslin)


DVDBeaver dvd review  Gary W. Tooze


DVDBeaver - Blu-ray DVD review [Leonard Norwitz]



USA  Great Britain  (137 mi)  1986         director’s cut:  (154 mi)


Chicago Reader On Line   Dave Kehr


One sequel that surpasses the original. Director James Cameron dumps the decorative effects of Ridley Scott's 1979 Alien in favor of some daring narrative strategies and a tight thematic focus (1986). Sigourney Weaver, the sole survivor of the first encounter, returns to the scene as an adviser to a military mission sent to exterminate the alien scourge. The first half of the film is virtually actionless, as Cameron audaciously draws out our anticipation by alluding to past horrors and building the threat of even more extreme developments; the second half is nonstop, driving action, constructed in a maniacal cliff-hanger style in which each apparently hopeless situation feeds immediately into something even wilder. At 137 minutes the film is a bit long, and Cameron does overplay his hand here and there, pushing things just a shade further than he should to maintain audience credibility. But unlike the original, the action is used to develop character, and the central image--the alien spores as a monstrous parody of human birth--finds an effective resonance in the plotline.


Combustible Celluloid [Jeffrey M. Anderson]


Everything a sequel should be, James Cameron took his slam-bang Aliens in an entirely different direction from Ridley Scott's moody 1979 chamber piece, Alien, with an amazingly simple idea: more aliens. Sigourney Weaver returns (and earned an Oscar nomination) as Ripley, who reluctantly agrees to consult on a new mission. This time, she rides with a band of gung-ho military nuts (Michael Biehn, Bill Paxton, Jenette Goldstein, etc.) and a nerdy pencil pusher (Paul Reiser) with an alternate agenda. Lance Henriksen returns as the android Bishop. Cameron plays with several motherhood themes, showing the mother alien laying her eggs, while Ripley rescues a little girl, Newt (Carrie Henn), and becomes her surrogate mother. Cameron's dialogue has never been better, with plenty of snappy, quotable lines. The film was released in theaters in a 137-minute cut, but Cameron's preferred 154-minute director's cut is even better; he keeps the suspense slowly building until it becomes almost unbearable in the final, tense minutes, with Ripley racing against the clock to rescue Newt from the endless green-blue fortress. Aliens has a strange, mid-80s Rambo-like physicality to it, but it's couched in a reasonable and forgivable context. It's one of the best sequels ever made. Paxton, Goldstein and Henriksen reunited the following year in Kathryn Bigelow's Near Dark.


Slant Magazine  Ed Gonzalez, also reviewing the Quadrilogy with Jeremiah Kipp here:  DVD Review: Alien Quadrilogy


After Piranha Part Two: The Spawning, James Cameron scored a major hit with the nihilist action flick The Terminator, starring Arnold Schwarzenegger and girl-power queen Linda Hamilton. It made sense then that Cameron was brought on to direct the sequel to Alien. Cruder than the original, Aliens is a distinctly greedy mega-production. There's only so many times you can tell the same story and rewrite the same set pieces. Because the film's human melodramas play second fiddle to the kick-ass action sequences, it's obvious that 20th Century Fox wanted to bank on the success of the original film. Some seven years after its release, Alien had developed a significant following in feminist circles. Back in film school, a professor frequently referenced the set design's phallic and vaginal imagery, but it's Ripley's battle to be heard by the film's alpha males and mother ship that truly resonates today. This mostly subtextual war of the sexes is on whorish display throughout Aliens: the mother alien is referred to as a "badass" by Bill Paxton's insufferable Hudson; Ripley's cigar-chomping sergeant doesn't think she can do anything; and the tough, eager-to-please Latina lesbian who calls Ripley "Snow White" is teased for looking like a man. After floating in space for 57 years, Ripley is picked up by a salvage ship and is treated like a rape victim by a money-minded conglomerate. After her feminine insight gets the better of everyone, she helps spearhead a mission back to the alien planet after the ship loses contact with its colonists. Logic betrays the film from the start (after 20 years on the alien planet, the colonists discover the aliens at the same time Ripley is rescued), as does the occasional plot hole, but more tragic is the sorry lot of archetypical characters a fierce Weaver has to rub shoulders with—you can tell exactly in what order everyone will die depending on how nondescript, polite, hysterical or evil the characterization. Aliens is a "guy movie" through and through, right down to the "get away from her, you bitch" female-on-female violence (Cameron, David Giler and Walter Hill must have been watching "Dynasty" while writing their screenplay). The Director's Cut of the film hauntingly amplifies Ripley's disconnect from her dead daughter and her relationship to the young Newt (essentially a substitute for her creepy pet cat). Otherwise, the film's human interactions are nowhere near as interesting as Cameron's deft direction of action and use of non-alien space (the "Remote Sentry Weapons" killing spree may be Cameron's finest moment).   Nix

James Cameron's "Aliens" is, in my humble opinion, the definitive Humans vs. Aliens movie. As far as I'm concern, every film that has come after "Aliens" are inferior clones. Even the animated "Final Fantasy", for all of its cinematic breakthroughs, was nothing more than a rich man's "Aliens." It's no surprise then that "Aliens" is the film by which I measure all Humans vs. Aliens movies.  

What makes "Aliens" a classic is how it brilliantly lulls you into its world with a sense of security before assaulting your senses with a barrage of American firepower, acid-spewing aliens, and claustrophobic tension. In fact, the movie doesn't even kick into high gear until well after the 50-minute mark, but as soon as that happens, the film never relents. The way the film manages to sustain its high-octane power, while never compromising on its quiet, personal moments, is just incredible.

"Aliens" is James Cameron's sequel to Ridley Scott's 1979 "Alien", a cerebral experience that attempted to scare with atmosphere and paranoia. "Aliens," on the other hand, is content to thrill with firepower. The film brings back Ellen Ripley (Sigourney Weaver), the only survivor from the first film, who has been frozen in cryo sleep for the last half century or so. Awaken into a new world she is ill-prepared for, Ripley is informed that the alien planet where the alien creature that terrorized her commercial vessel (from the first film) came from has since been colonized by humans. Oh, and it just so happens that said colony has gone off the radar, and the colonists are trouble.

Ripley is asked to return to the alien planet as a guide to check up on the colonists. She is hesitant at first, but eventually agrees out of a need to resolve unfinished business (of the personal and alien-killing variety, natch). The bulk of the rescue crew consists of Marines, including the easygoing Hicks (Michael Biehn), the loudmouth Hudson (Bill Paxton), and the inexperienced commander, Gorman (William Hope). No sooner does the crew land on the planet that it becomes apparent things have gone terribly wrong. In fact the colonists are either all dead, fed on, or are being used as breeding apparatus by the aliens!

"Aliens" is the perfect title for this movie. Whereas part one was called "Alien", properly denoting the single alien creature in that movie, "Aliens" is literally crawling with the alien creatures. They are everywhere -- on the ceiling, along the walls, and in the shadows. Under Cameron's direction, the aliens are frighteningly real, physical, and in your face. They move with the speed of snakes and kills with the ferocity of tigers, but what really makes them a formidable foe is their cunning. These bastards are smart, has mastered organization, and there are a lot of them.

Once the first mini-gun opens fire, "Aliens" shifts into action mode. At nearly two hours and 20 minutes, the movie lives up to the original film and, in my opinion, surpasses it. This is no cerebral experience, this is full-tilt action at its finest. Best of all, Cameron and his crew has the cast and the budget to pull off everything they wanted. Even more impressive is that this is only Cameron's second movie, the first being "The Terminator". (Cameron actually shot, edited, and released "The Terminator" and "Aliens" back-to-back. He was also the writer of 1986's "First Blood," the first "Rambo" movie. How's that for a banner year?)

Besides making a star out of Sigourney Weaver as one of the first woman in cinematic history to kick ass and take names on an epic scale, the film features perhaps the finest and most memorable character to sci-fi fans everywhere. Bill Paxton ("Frailty") is Hudson, the loudmouth who utters some of the most memorable lines in all of sci-fi, including but not limited to his mantra of, "Game over, man! Game over!" after the alien army has all but destroyed his unit.

"Aliens" is good stuff. No, let me rephrase that. "Aliens" is great stuff. 

DVD Times Review [Daniel Stephens]


Gods of Filmmaking


Dragan Antulov


Turner Classic Movies   Pablo Kjolseth


James Berardinelli's ReelViews


The Science Fiction, Horror and Fantasy Film Review  Richard Scheib


Aliens   Mother and the Teeming Hordes, by Jim Naureckas from Jump Cut


Conspicuous Force and Verminization  Mark at K-Punk, August 2, 2006


Aliens: Vermin, always Vermin  zunguzungu, October 20, 2008


DVDTown [John J. Puccio]


Salon (Max Garrone)


Ted Prigge


George Chabot   Slyder


Crazy for Cinema (Lisa Skrzyniarz) (Brian McKay)  Brandt Sponseller [John D'Amico]


Ruthless Reviews ("potentially offensive")  Jonny Lieberman (Scott Weinberg) ("Dr. Isaksson")


Q Network Film Desk (James Kendrick)   Director’s Cut


DVD Verdict - Collector's Edition  Adam Arseneau (Carlo Cavagna)  including Special Edition review


Sci-Fi Movie Page (James O'Ehley)   Special Edition


DVD Times Alien Quadrilogy [Daniel Stephens]


DVD Journal  Clarence Beaks reviews the Quadrilogy


Turner Classic Movies   The Alien Saga from Scott McGee


DVD Town - Alien Quadrilogy [John J. Puccio]


The Onion A.V. Club [Keith Phipps]  reviews the Quadrilogy [Blake French]  reviews the Quadrilogy


Sci-Fi Weekly   Victor Lucas reviews the Quadrilogy


Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times


The New York Times (Walter Goodman)


DVDBeaver  Gary W. Tooze



USA (146 mi)  1989  ‘Scope      special edition (171 mi)


The Abyss   Jonathan Rosenbaum from the Reader


The third collaboration of writer-director James Cameron and producer Gale Anne Hurd (Aliens, the Terminator movies) is a big-budget action thriller about a group of underwater oil diggers who go looking for a lost nuclear submarine and wind up encountering extraterrestrials. Shot largely underwater and with direct sound, this has a visceral kick to it that enhances Cameron's flair for high-tech special effects and streamlined storytelling, but the attempt to extract the essences of several genres (cold-war submarine thriller, love story, Disney fantasy, pseudomystical SF in the Spielberg mode) and mix them together ultimately leads to giddy incoherence. Before the movie collapses, however, there are several highly effective suspense sequences, and Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio is especially fine as the feisty, volatile heroine. With Ed Harris, Michael Biehn, Todd Graff, and John Bedford Lloyd. 140 min.

The Onion A.V. Club [Keith Phipps]

Inspired by the 1992 re-release of Blade Runner, which restored excised footage to Ridley Scott's groundbreaking 1982 film while eliminating additions dictated by Warner Bros., the early '90s saw a boom in "director's cut" re-releases, a trend that spotlighted the creative tension in big-budget filmmaking. The term quickly became meaningless—does a few extra seconds of nudity in Basic Instinct make a significant artistic difference?—but raised provocative questions. As revealing in its own way as Blade Runner and Brazil is the case of James Cameron's The Abyss, a strangely personal underwater adventure released in 1989 at 140 minutes, then reissued a few years later expanded by 31 minutes cut at the studio's suggestion for time considerations. What difference does half an hour make? A lot, and not always in ways that might be expected. In both versions, Ed Harris plays a deep-sea expert whose commercially employed drillers come to investigate a nuclear-sub accident. The mission reunites him with estranged wife Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio and forces both to put their lives in danger to thwart a deranged nuclear-warhead-toting Navy SEAL (Michael Biehn) who threatens to destroy a recently unearthed species of intelligent extra-terrestrials. Almost every restoration can unreservedly be called an improvement upon the original—making the story more well-rounded, fleshing out the underwater environment, and better setting up the unexpectedly moving relationship between Harris and Mastrantonio—until a conclusion that relies on an audience's tolerance for a New Age by way of The Day The Earth Stood Still message of peace and love. All of which raises interesting questions: Who was right? Cameron's instincts seem dead-on for most of the picture, but they abandon him in the end. The clipped original ending may have been unsatisfying, but it at least seemed to match the rest of the picture. And what to make of the fact that Cameron himself doesn't seem particularly resistant to the changes? This new DVD edition presents both versions of the film, letting viewers judge for themselves and raising questions of its own. An hour-long making- of documentary, an array of behind-the-scenes details, and a running subtitled commentary reveal just how torturous the making of The Abyss—much of it done underwater for up to 12 hours at a time in an abandoned nuclear reactor—was for everyone involved. Which did that work better serve, a presentable commercial compromise or an ultimately wacky work of artistic integrity? Whatever the answer, this version of The Abyss presents an exciting, often beautiful film in the best possible setting, allowing a full examination of the paradox of attempting to make a blockbuster-sized film with vision.

Washington Post [Rita Kempley]

Like the Titanic, "The Abyss" was a deluxe cruise till it went down. Deemed unsinkable, the undersea thriller had a budget that would choke a beluga. Director Jim Cameron and producer Gale Anne Hurd, creators of "The Terminator" and "Aliens," seemed unstoppable. And then they met their waterlulu.

The movie is a veritable chowder of chills. Like Red Lobster's seafood sampler, it offers a taste of everything from psychotic aquanauts to psychedelic jellyfish. When it comes to calamity, Cameron doesn't discriminate, confronting his heroic divers with marital problems, missile crises, leaky valves, WWIII and hurricanes. And then there are the NTIs (non-terrestrial intelligences), which "The Abyss" needs like a rowboat needs tires.

Nevertheless, it gets off to a quick start with the foundering of a nuclear submarine. Swept off course by some mysterious force, the sub comes to rest on the brink of the Cayman Trough, a four-mile-deep Caribbean canyon. A rowdy-but-lovable team of oil drillers stationed in Deepcore, a nearby underwater habitat, reluctantly joins a rescue mission led by a spit-and-polish team of Navy SEALs. As the clunky Deepcore, a claustrophobic's nightmare, is towed to the wreck, a hurricane cuts off its umbilical line to the mother ship and the roustabouts are as alone as newborn tadpoles.

Ed Harris plays Bud Brigman, the courageous rig foreman whose mellow style grates on Deepcore's project engineer -- Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio as his almost ex-wife, Lindsey. Dubbed "the queen bitch of the universe," Lindsey is the terror of the tightly knit nine-person crew. Like Ripley in "Aliens," she is a Fembo, an unfeeling, and therefore unnatural, female.

She rebukes a colleague for calling her Mrs. Brigman. "I didn't like being called that even when it meant something." Like Scotty on the Starship Enterprise, she's always muttering and puttering about her habitat.

"I've got four years invested in this rig. And three in the marriage. You've got to have priorities," she says to the honey-cup Bud, who won't give up on love and still wears his wedding ring. Inevitably, close encounters and shared dangers will bring the couple back together (inevitably because the plot, with its deus ex machina, is laid out like Hansel and Gretel's bread-crumb trail).

The Brigmans must not only shore up the flooding Deepcore but also stave off Lt. Coffey (Michael Biehn), the SEAL leader who succumbs to PIP (pressure-induced psychosis), takes a ballistic missile from the downed sub and starts waving it around like a handgun. Then, mistaking the friendly NTIs for Russians, he decides to nuke 'em.

Torn between fantasy and fear-baiting, "The Abyss" flounders between the creepy corridors inside and the godlike critters -- "Cocoon" fledglings? -- outside in their giant Melmac saucer. (How many times can we be awestruck by Day-Glo Gumbies? And why do these creatures always travel with the Mormon Tabernacle Choir?)

About 40 percent of the movie, persuasively soggy, was shot underwater. But to their credit, Cameron and Hurd (his producer and ex-wife) always focus on the humanity, not the hardware, wedding emotions and effects, tears and brine.

So the neatly designed Deepcore boasts an ingratiating crew, an eclectic platoon of scruffy guys and gal. Standouts are Hippy (Todd Graff), the clowning paranoid; Catfish (Leo Burmester), the countrified welder; and One Night (Kimberly Scott), the best dang submersible pilot in the whole dang ocean. You know them, you love them, they're gonna get killed.

Now for the acting: With cheekbones like oar blades, Harris is the handsomely chiseled hero with a heart of gold. He proves that he still has the right stuff for a romantic lead.

The naturally evocative Mastrantonio at first seems burdened by her cast-iron role but then pets an NTI and is transformed. When Coffey insists the NTI ship is a Russian bogy and Brigman seems persuaded, the former bitch queen coos, "He sees with hate and fear. You have to look with better eyes than that." Next thing you know she is plumb proud to be Mrs. Brigman.

Cameron says he thought the yarn up while attending high school in Niagara Falls. Is there any wonder that it's wet but not deep? "The Abyss" asks us to believe that the drowned return to life, that the comatose come to the rescue, that driven women become doting wives, that Neptune cares about landlubbers. I'd sooner believe that Moby Dick could swim up the drainpipe.

Dragan Antulov


Cinepad (Jim Emerson)


Images Journal  A.R. Ferguson


DVD Journal  J. Jordan Burke


The Abyss  Like a Fish Out of Water, Jody Lyle from Jump Cut,  June 1993


The Abyss and Star Trek 4: With Friends Like These  zunguzungu, November 3, 2008


The QNetwork Film Desk [James Kendrick]


Gods of Filmmaking review of The Abyss


Film Freak Central   Bill Chambers


The Science Fiction, Horror and Fantasy Film Review  Richard Scheib


The Sci-Fi Movie Page  James O’Ehley


Movie Vault [Greg C.]


DVD Verdict  Harold Gervais


George Chabot's Review of The Abyss (Dan Lopez)   Special Edition


DVDTown [John J. Puccio]  Special Edition


The Fresh Films Review [Fredrik Fevang]


Brilliant Observations on 1492 Films [Clayton Trapp]


Washington Post [Desson Howe]


The New York Times (Lawrence Van Gelder)



USA  (137 mi)  1991  ‘Scope     Director’s Cut:  (154 mi)     Special Edition (156 mi)


Terminator 2: Judgment Day   Jonathan Rosenbaum from the Reader


James Cameron's slam-bang 1991 sequel-cum-remake brings back Arnold Schwarzenegger as another killing machine from the future. This time his mission isn't to kill the heroine (Linda Hamilton) but to protect her son (Edward Furlong) from an even more high-tech killing machine (Robert Patrick). To spice things up, Schwarzenegger is dressed as a biker and Patrick as a cop, the latter displaying quicksilver capacities that hark back to the friendly alien force in The Abyss. All the virtues of the original--intelligent postmodernist irony, spiffy special effects, effective action, tons of destruction, and Schwarzenegger in the nonhuman role he was born to play--are present here, though when Cameron tries to milk some sentiment out of the "personality" and fate of his top machine he comes up flat and empty, and the other characters are scarcely more interesting. As a fancy mechanism fueled by the pleasure of watching legions of people and equipment being summarily destroyed, this is pretty hot stuff. Written by Cameron in collaboration with William Wisher. R, 136 min. - Ultimate Edition  Nix


It really is not possible to over exaggerate the importance of a movie like "Terminator 2" to action filmmaking, and just filmmaking in general. Besides pioneering cinematic morphing technology (the technique that mimics one character "changing" flawlessly into another before our eyes), "T2" remains the film to see for sheer excitement, tension, and suspense 12 years after its initial release. (Director James Cameron's other movie, "Aliens", ranks just slightly behind.) With the recent release of the "Ultimate Edition", "T2" is even more fleshed out than before, adding substance to the style, flash, and roller coaster ride that was the original.
Story-wise, "Terminator 2" picks up some 13 years after the events of the original, with Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton) locked away in a mental institution and her son, future rebel leader John Connor (Edward Furlong) living unhappily with foster parents. Like before, the computer intelligence that is trying to exterminate humans in the future sends a Terminator, this one the advance T-1000 (Robert Patrick), back in time to kill young John. And just as before, the resistance is able to send back a protector -- a T-800 Terminator model (Arnold Schwarzenegger), which just happens to be identical to the Terminator originally sent back in time to kill Sarah.
What follows is two hours and 30 minutes of intense action and edge-of-your-seat tension as the seemingly unstoppable T-1000, made of "liquid metal" that allows it to morph into anyone and anything, relentlessly stalk John and his Terminator protector. After breaking Sarah out of the joint, the trio goes into hiding in Mexico; that is, until Sarah decides to take a shot at altering the future and heads off to kill Miles Dyson (Joe Morton), the computer genius who will eventually give life to the killer computer intelligence. The film then enters an explosive finale that is really a 40-minute running gunbattle that demolishes everything in sight and sets a new bar for what constitutes ballsy action.
Director James Cameron ("True Lies") shows the uncanny eye for detail and film continuity here that he would eventually use on the mammoth "Titanic." Every background character, every gunshot, and every special effects is where they should be, timed perfectly for the best effect. While then-newcomer Edward Furlong is sometimes spotty as John Connor, Linda Hamilton's buff return as the slightly deranged and completely paranoid Sarah Connor more than makes up for it. The Big S. does his usual thing, which is look cool and throw people around without breaking a sweat. He's got that down to a science.
The DVD includes two versions of the full movie -- the one originally shown in theaters in 1991, and a special edition that features nearly 20 minutes of missing footages. The DVD itself features quite a bit of extras, but the only extra that should matter to fans is how much footage had been cut in 1991. The special edition returns the missing footages seamlessly into the flow of the movie, and if you hadn't seen the original version, you wouldn’t know they had been re-added at all.
Some of the re-added scenes are more important than others. Of note is a dream sequence that reunites Linda Hamilton's Sarah Connor with Kyle Reese (Michael Biehn), the hero from the first "Terminator." Another scene adds some "family time" for Dyson, but is not all that necessary. Other, more important scenes include a lengthy sequence where, after having escaped the T-1000 and saved Sarah from the mental institution, the Terminator is shut off, and Sarah nearly destroys his CPU after she removes it. The scene adds to the emotional gap between mother and son, and adds to Sarah's continued distrust of the Terminator, which is very justified after the events of the original movie.
Another scene, shorter in length and not completely necessary, shows the T-1000, after having killed John's foster parents, going outside to the family's barking dog and retrieving its collar. Here, the killer Terminator discovers that it had been tricked. (Remember when the Terminator, using John's voice, asked about the family dog using the wrong name, and the T-1000 didn't know any better?) There are also a couple of dream sequences that adds to Sarah's anxiety and helps to convince her that the right thing to do is to kill Dyson.
This Ultimate Edition of "Terminator 2" definitely earns its name and then some. The film has never looked better, and there are enough extras in the DVD to choke a dozen horses. (Extras include a host of commentaries, including one by co-writer/director James Cameron and another by the Big S. himself.) If you love the movie, the DVD is a worthy addition to your collection. It definitely makes a great movie even better, something 95% of the DVDs out there can't even think about saying, much less actually say.  

Washington Post [Hal Hinson]

James Cameron's "Terminator 2: Judgment Day" is a lustrous machine, all gleaming steel and burnished gunmetal, with state-of-the-art nuts and bolts. You relate to it the way you might relate to any overpowering machine, a little dispassionately but with a respect bordering on awe.

It's a tank of a movie, big, powerful and hard to resist. But it's a tank with lightning treads and jaguar agility. The stunning special effects show something that's rare these days -- technical stunts that evoke a true sense of wonder; it's real jaw-to-the-floor stuff.

As a sequel, "Terminator 2" is more imposing than its predecessor, and it lacks the B-movie modesty of the original. The original "Terminator" was science fiction with an element of shaggy poetry; this "Terminator" strives more for the mythic. It's heroic pulp.

The circumstances of the two are similar. Once again, two warriors have been beamed from the future back to our time, and once again, one warrior must protect the subject that the other was sent to destroy. In this case, the Terminator's mission is to kill John Connor (Edward Furlong), the young son of Sarah (Linda Hamilton), so that he cannot grow up to become the great leader of the resistance that he would after the world has been blown to bits in a nuclear conflagration. The boy's protector in this second film is another T-800 Terminator (Arnold Schwarzenegger), like the cyborg that combined machine and living tissue that was sent to kill his mother 10 years ago.

The T-800's adversary this time out is a more sophisticated version of himself, the T-1000 (Robert Patrick), which is made from a kind of liquid metal -- a "mimetic polyalloy," it's called -- that allows it to change shape at will and renders it virtually indestructible. The T-1000 is a sleeker, faster version of the earlier Terminator -- it plays cat to Schwarzenegger's raging bull -- but it has its predecessor's single-mindedness. The movie exists on a very basic level; it's one long chase in which the new Terminator tries to get the boy away from the older one.

The film sets up a monumental battle of the Titans, and it doesn't disappoint. The confrontations between these two unstoppable forces are thrilling death bouts between equally matched gladiators. As they hammer each other, the outcome of the fight seems genuinely uncertain.

But the film's real virtues emerge in its quieter moments when the characters are given a chance to interact. The subtext here is much richer than in the first; it's a movie about family and finding a father. When the Terminator is on the run with Sarah and John, he becomes the strong patriarchal figure at the center of their makeshift nuclear family. The roles in this family-during-wartime, though, are hilariously reversed. It's the kid who teaches the father how to cope in the world, how to use slang like "chill" and "no problemo," how to "give five" and, more important, how to feel.

John also teaches his surrogate dad a grudging respect for human life, which further contributes to the film's new age spirit. It's this element that is most unique and most satisfying -- that and the richness Schwarzenegger brings to his character. It's comical, perhaps, but Schwarzenegger expresses more of his own humanity when playing a machine than he does when playing real people. He's a hopelessly wooden actor, but that artificiality and his "Fun With Phonics" style of delivery is perfect for his character here, and perfect for the film's deadpan sense of humor. For once, he's ideally cast, and he brings the kind of delicacy of feeling that Boris Karloff showed as the Frankenstein monster. As a machine, he has soul.

Unfortunately, the other Terminator doesn't, and that's one of this movie's biggest problems. Unlike in the first film, there's no one to identify with on the other side. The effects for this character, however, are smashing too.

Cameron manages to create a neat balance between the technical and the human here; so much so that this surfaces as one of the movie's themes. Most of the actors make strong statements, including Hamilton, who's Nautilused herself into the form of a modern-day Diana, and Furlong, who gives one of the loosest performances for a child actor ever filmed. As the brain behind SkyNet, the computer that goes out of control and causes the nuclear nightmare, Joe Morton also makes the most of a few minutes on screen.

No one in the movies today can match Cameron's talent for this kind of hyperbolic, big-screen action. Cameron, who directed the first "Terminator" and "Aliens," doesn't just slam us over the head with the action. In staging the movie's gigantic set pieces, he has an eye for both grandeur and beauty; he possesses that rare director's gift for transforming the objects he shoots so that we see, for example, the lyrical muscularity of an 18-wheel truck. Because of Cameron, the movie is the opposite of its Terminator character; it's a machine with a human heart.

James Cameron on Terminator 2 - Part 1


James Cameron on Terminator 2 - Part 2


Jeeem's Cinepad [Jim Emerson]


The Greatest Films - comprehensive analysis of classic US film  Tim Dirks attention to detail


The City Review [Carter B. Horsley]


Ted Prigge


The SF, Horror and Fantasy Film Review  Richard Scheib (Rachel Gordon) (Daniel Briney)


Apollo Movie Guide [Ryan Cracknell]


Ruthless Reviews ("potentially offensive")  Mike from Hobart


Movie Vault [The Moose]


Gods of Filmmaking (Rob Gonsalves)


Salon (Bill Wyman) reaches Judgment Day  Christopher Null


Daily Film Dose [Alan Bacchus]


Not Another Teen Neophyte [Vadim Rizov]  Angus Wolfe Murray


Terminator 2: Judgment Day  Sean Fitzgibbons from DVD Verdict - DVD Review


The Sci-Fi Movie Page  James O’Ehley (Brian McKay) DVD review [Marina Chavez]  Ultimate Edition


Terminator 2: Judgment Day Ultimate Edition  Mike Jackson from DVD Verdict


DVD Review: Terminator 2 - Ultimate Edition


DVDTown [John J. Puccio]  Ultimate Edition


Digital Monkey Box DVD Review  Paul, Ultimate Edition


DVD Talk (Jason Bovberg)   Ultimate Edition (Mark Zimmer)   Ultimate Edition


Movielocity Movie Reviews (Blake Kunisch)   Ultimate Edition


Blogcritics - DVD review [Matt Paprocki]  DTS ES Remix


DVDTalk - Blu-ray Review [Joshua Zyber]


DVD Talk (Joshua Zyber)  HD DVD Edition


DVDTown - HD-DVD Import Edition [John J. Puccio]


DVDTown - Ultimate HD DVD, German Import Edition [John J. Puccio]


Terminator 2: Judgment Day: Extreme Edition  Elizabeth Skipper from DVD Verdict


DVD Talk (Jason Bovberg)   Extreme Edition


Austin Chronicle (Marc Savlov)


Washington Post [Joe Brown]


Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times


The New York Times (Janet Maslin) [Kevin Yip]


DVDBeaver - Blu-ray DVD review [Leonard Norwitz]


TITANIC                                                        C                     75

USA  (194 mi)  1997  ‘Scope


Waiting for the $1.50 show at the Davis, where the stench in the urinal was overwhelming, the odor of ammonia and bleach,  and when I peed, it sizzled.  I’ve never seen that before.  There was little to no air-conditioning on a 96 degree day outside and the theater itself revealed a tiny little screen raised way up in the air.  I found the only seat with no other seat in front of it, apparently for handicapped accessibility, 9 rows back.  All the kids kept moving their parents closer to the front, carrying giant tubs of popcorn and large vats of pop, slurping and chomping continuously, eventually throwing their popcorn across rows, picking it up from the filthy, grimy, already sticky floor, then throwing it in the air and catching it with their mouths, where I heard various comments:  “It’s a great love story...a terrific comedy...I’ve seen it six times...I’ve seen it seven times...Harriet had an operation on her left shoulder...Dad, I smell a cigarette...I want more popcorn...Hey bitch, gimme some gum...Have you ever tried cheese-flavored chocolate?”  Then they turned on the music, “More Than a Heartache,” sounding like a car radio blasting.  My chair was tilted a little to the left, the whole row seemed to be on a downward slant, so I already had the feeling of being on a boat.  No one stopped talking when the film began, including parents that incessantly kept talking to their children.  People just couldn’t keep still and constantly kept moving forward throughout the entire film.


But I digress, a lone woman’s voice opens the film as underwater cameras go snooping into the deep, searching the depths two and a half miles below the surface, scavenging the Titanic, considered the ship of dreams, until they find a safe, but no diamonds, only a nude drawing of a woman named Rose with the date 4-14-12.  A woman watches herself being shown on TV and remarks, “I’ll be damned,”  which begins a flashback to an arrogant class of rich who believed they and their ship were invincible.  Thus begins the story of Jack and Rose, matinee idol Leonard DiCaprio and the sumptuous Kate Winslet, he won his 3rd class passage in a poker game from a guy named Sven (“Where’s Sven?”) and is a penniless artist while she is engaged to one of the richest men on earth, but has doubts, feeling her life would be an endless parade of parties and cotillion and polo and yachts, the same mindless chatter, and no one would ever listen to her.  Her mother forbids her from seeing Jack, but when did that ever stop anyone?  A romance ensues. 


Jack whisks her down to the lower decks which resembles an energetic, neverending party, dancing to bagpipe music.  Jack tries to convince her that in a world full of stuffed shirts, they’d only be stifling her spirit.  Later, in her private boudoir, she disrobes and asks him to draw her wearing only a 56 carat diamond, La Coeur de la Mer, the Heart of the Ocean, once owned by royalty, Louis XVI.  As she describes this moment in voiceover 84 years later, she describes it as the most erotic moment of her life.  Rose decides when the ship docks, she’ll be getting off with Jack, but of course, that is not to be, as the rest of the film turns into THE POSEIDON ADVENTURE (1972), turning a barely breathing interior chamber drama into an overwrought romantic spectacle of special effects and computer graphics.  Wowee Zowee.  Well, there went all interest.    


After the ship hits an iceberg, in what feels like an eternity, everyone continues to act like nothing happened, as the 5 lower decks slowly fill with water, supposedly building the tension until chaos ensues when it becomes apparent the ship is going down, when the lower decks are locked in order to escort the first class passengers to the lifeboats.  There were only enough lifeboats for half the passengers, more would have cluttered the decks, so eventually in the melee that followed, the crew attempts to control the situation with threats and gunfire, eventually murdering several of the passengers.  As the water level rises higher and higher, in slow motion, to strobe light effects, event torrents of floods, a string quartet plays a mournful adagio on the deck, while Jack and Rose promise to trust one another and never let go.  But they do eventually let go, as the ocean is awash with floating bodies in a sea of ice, most all frozen corpses, where only 6 were captured from the sea.  Rose was one of those 6, heard 84 years later to recall, “Jack exists now only in my memory.” 


A sappy song plays over the credits, “My Heart Will Go On,” but of course, it is the credits that go on and on.  The amount of people listed in the credits was obscene.  When the film finally ended, there was a sound scrunch and the Coasters chimed in with “Yakety Yak, Don’t Talk Back,” and from behind a curtain, a garbage can on wheels was rolled down the aisles by one of the ushers.  In a film marked by enormous excess and non-existent editing, where the depiction of the upper crust society couldn’t have been more artificial and uninspiring, Kate Winslet’s performance provided at least some level of fresh air in the central role, which held the audience’s attention up until the crash.  Afterwards, the film was a repetitive, monotonous bore. 


Brilliant Observations on 1173 Films [Clayton Trapp]


It's nothing short of a religious paradox that a subculture so morally bereft and artistically exhausted and worshipful of nothing but capital...that Hollywood in the late 20th century could produce such a monumental and poetic testimony to love. The visuals are incredible, the textures and shapes and contrasts, the epic scale of mighty ship and sense of height involved throughout. The blue shading is beyond the potentialities of film; the purples, the rich turqoise, the aquas. Beyond that it must also be one of the greatest films in history for blind people, with the groaning engines and the splintering planks, running of feet along the deck, the rush of the water, the fireworks, the rollicking rhythm of a party in third class. The musical cards are beautiful and diverse, revealed spontaneously with a crazy gypsy genius. There's a fair share of Hollywood manipulation sure, but in circumstances of such grandeur these characteristics can only be considered additional virtues. Leonardo DiCaprio is a red-blooded American artist with an extraordinary sense of situational ethics who lives in the heartland of the garden of catalysis. Kate Winslet is nothing less than an existential heroine for the ages-flapping her butterfly wings with Promethean determination against the gravity of a fate more powerful than ten thousand suns. In a film shot on a boat what could happen when the magnetic poles of two such American characters finally touch and spark? Only one thing is possible: they do it in the backseat of a car. James Cameron gives us way too many memorable shots: Victor Garber as the ship's builder striding through the festive dining room, the only man on board aware that the ship is going down....Winslet's materialistic mother silently watching the Titanic go under from her seat on a lifeboat, she can only be wondering what kind of person she is that her daughter would rather go down with the ship than share her safety. Several of the secondary characters are perfect: Garber, Winslet's fiancee' Billy Zane is one of the biggest assholes in history-I know that I would have killed him; Jonathan Evans-Jones the bandleader. Bewitched's Dr. Bombay (Bernard Fox) may be the most sensible and philosophical of them all. As the boat goes under he refuses a life vest, but says he'll take a brandy.


Titanic (1997)  Bryant Frazer from Deep Focus

From the underwater opening scenes, which are as neon-blue as anything from James Cameron's science fiction opus The Abyss, it's clear that Titanic will be a technophile's delight.

Oh, I suppose it's a historian's delight, too, with its labor-intensive recreations of the state rooms, hallways, dining halls and decks of that doomed ship. But it's the cash-intensive rendering of an impossible image -- the Titanic, full-size, setting sail from its dock with Leonardo DiCaprio the figurehead at its prow -- that makes this one for the history books. Titanic turns the ship itself into a gargantuan fetish object.

Those opening scenes (well, most of them) are deep-sea shots of the real Titanic, which Cameron insisted on photographing if the project were to proceed. Repeatedly throughout the film, Cameron offers match dissolves from Titanic's ghost-ship remains to his own shiny creation, as if the film's verisimillitude is somehow profound in itself. Accordingly, he is loath to simply photograph his actors walking on the deck of his scale recreation of the original boat. Rather, the camera must swoop backward alongside the railing, keeping the performers on one side of the widescreen frame while we see the ship's hull cutting through ocean water on the other. For the first half of the movie, every other shot seems giddy with the understandable satisfaction of depicting the impossible. It's like the Edwardian version of Jurassic Park.

Of course, the ship must be populated with people, and it's here that Cameron's vision falters. He's on solid ground when he envisions Titanic as a big, floating metaphor for the Edwardian class struggle (as the sinking began, the folks in the lower class accomodations were locked inside while the well-to-do boarded their lifeboats), but gets waterlogged as he uses the thinnest of characters and most routine of love stories to make his point and jerk his tears. OK -- point made, tears jerked. But it's fortunate for Cameron that the human story here has the weight of terrible history behind it, since it's lacking in all but the most rudimentary drama.

DiCaprio is Jack Dawson, a lovably scruffy American abroad who wins a steerage-class ticket back to his homeland in a poker game. Across a crowded boat, he spies Kate Winslet's very first-class Rose DeWitt Bukater. Even though Jack and Rose should, by all rights, never come into contact on Titanic (where classes of passengers are kept rigidly segregated), an odd turn of events results in Jack's saving Rose's life and thus being invited to dinner on the upper decks. Jack is revealed as a tasteful vulgarian who shares Rose's predilection for modern art (she brings aboard canvases by Monet and Picasso) and teaches her how to spit. Rose, meanwhile, is reluctantly betrothed to the snarling Cal Hockley (Billy Zane), an unremittingly villainous upper-cruster whose affection for her is based on vanity rather than on love. He's even got a callous henchman named Spicer Lovejoy (David Warner) to teach Jack a lesson in keeping his hands off what doesn't belong to him.

Although there are a wealth of stories on Titanic, it's this cobwebbed melodrama that Cameron has brushed off and made the narrative focus of his film. Ever the jaded critic, I found myself wincing at each mawkish plot twist -- this melodrama is as old as the ship itself. Even so, it would be churlish to claim that it doesn't work -- it works all right, just barely well enough for Cameron to draw his audience into and through the tragedy to come. But it's the easy way out, and the film suffers from a lack of narrative invention to match its visual wizardry. (The cloying score by James Horner, which rummages inexplicably through Enya's sad sack of new age tricks, doesn't help.)

And for a 195-minute film, Titanic seems awfully rushed, as though Cameron sat in the cutting room, jabbing the other film editors with a cattle prod. On those rare occasions when Cameron does finally strike a gold vein of pathos -- I'm thinking of the ship's stoic musicians, refusing to let silence have its way with the ongoing disaster, or the elderly couple who have returned to bed, holding one another as a river of sea water washes the world away beneath them -- he cuts away impatiently, his camera once again searching out the tedious melodrama of Jack, Rose and their tormentors. And lots of rushing water. In every aspect but the special effects, Titanic takes the easy way out. There are so many tales that can be told on this ship, but Cameron opts to concentrate -- almost exclusively -- on his star-crossed lovers.

So I reserve the right to interpret this pedestrian tale as a succession of missed opportunites, at least until Cameron gets the chance to trot out the inevitable "director's cut" on home video (he promised Charlie Rose a copy of the extended version on laserdisc). Such characters as Molly Brown (Kathie Bates), Captain E.J. Smith (Bernard Hill) and the ship's regretful designer, Thomas Andrews (Victor Garber), drift through the proceedings in what amount to little more than cameos, yet they add some welcome heft to the narrative. Meanwhile, Cameron deploys jokes and cliches like so many helium balloons. (Some of the dustiest lines are given to Gloria Stuart, the 82-year-old actress who gamely portrays the decagenarian Rose in an irritating framing device that pulls the action into the present day and keeps interrupting the movie's primary story with dopey narration.)

The biggest asset to the story, aside from the special effects, is no doubt DiCaprio, who is anachronistic as all get-out, but without whom the romance would be not only creaky but dull. And, miraculously, it's not dull. I never really got DiCaprio -- arguably the most potent young heartthrob in American movies today -- before Titanic. But in this film he rises to the occasion with potent charisma and enough charm to make these lines play leagues better than they must have read on paper. He and Cameron must be some kind of soul mates, because DiCaprio seems to understand instinctively exactly what the director is going for. Winslet, of whom I'm a big fan, fits snugly into her own role but never seems at ease. Inhabiting his character neatly, DiCaprio helps her out.

By the time Leo and Kate have made it in the back of an automobile in storage on the ship, you may be thinking, "Enough already." And sure enough, Cameron fails to disappoint -- how could the consummation of their affection not be a signal that something terrible is literally on the horizon?

Once the ship hits that iceberg, it becomes clear that Cameron is in his element, and not a moment too soon. More, there's our palpable fascination with a disaster in the making, especially one that unfolds at such a measured pace as the slow sinking of the biggest seagoing craft ever built. Cameron tightens the cinematic screws like the expert he is, and builds this disaster to a smashing, grinding climax. As the ship cracks in two and goes perpindicular before sinking below the water's surface, the ensuing apocalypse is one-of-a-kind. And when Cameron cuts away to a lifeboat full of survivors, giving us their vantage on the wreck (complete with roller-coaster-ride screaming and tiny bodies tumbling to their deaths like insects), it's a moment of flamboyant spectacle. It's hard to know whether to be thrilled, appalled, or merely appreciative of such an appropriately Grand Guignol vision. It's almost genius -- Cameron starts with a simplistic portrait of an Edwardian lovers' paradise, and transforms it with feverish, needling strokes into a circle of Hell populated by 1,500 frozen corpses and another 700 lost souls waiting in their half-empty lifeboats for what old Rose calls (gack) "an absolution that would never come." (As usual, Cameron feels the need to spell everything out for us. And for the purposes of this review, I won't tackle the utterly schmaltzy final shots.)

So here's the problem: every potentially stunning moment in Titanic is negated by another that's merely numbing; for every image that comes close to bearing the force of truth, there are a half-dozen more that are trite and self-conscious. Meaning is cluttered by explanation.

It adds up, I found, to a depressingly flat experience. Titanic the ship is exquisitely rendered, but Cameron didn't have such exacting blueprints for the human beings who go down with her, and the result is cardboard characters with bleakly formulaic lives -- certain lines of dialogue and twists of plot are such hokum that it's actually distracting. If only the damned ship weren't obviously so much more important to Titanic the film than were the people on board.

And the ship is inarguably alive and exciting. It pops off the screen. Through the magic of computer graphics, it's realer than real, a modern-day Lazarus roused from the dead by a SFX messiah. And that's at least part of the problem. The film's elaborate concentration on a picture-perfect Titanic can only draw attention to its status as artifice unless there's one hell of a storyline to entrance us. But the bulk of Titanic contains no surprises and few delights. Marooned in the here and now, it's impossible to forget that this is James Cameron's impossibly expansive Titanic, rather than the real thing.

Slant Magazine   Eric Henderson


World Socialist Web Site   David Walsh


Nitrate Online (Eddie Cockrell)


Alex Fung


Bright Lights Film Journal   T.L. Putterman

Images (Gary Johnson)
Chicago Reader (Jonathan Rosenbaum) (Carlo Cavagna)


Decent Films - faith on film [Steven D. Greydanus]


Dragan Antulov   Slyder


Philadelphia City Paper (Cindy Fuchs)


Serdar Yegulalp


Movie ram-blings (Ram Samudrala) [Stephanie Zacharek]


James Berardinelli's ReelViews


Chicago NewCityNet (Ray Pride)


Nick's Flick Picks (Nick Davis) (Laurie Edwards)


Slate [David Edelstein]


Bright Lights Film Journal   Robert Keser


The Onion A.V. Club [Maria Schneider]


The UK Critic (Ian Waldron-Mantgani)


Jason Overbeck


Shane R. Burridge


Ted Prigge


Scott Renshaw (Rob Gonsalves)


The Flick Filosopher (MaryAnn Johanson)   also here:  second look at Titanic  and here:  third look at Titanic, after its Oscar win for Best Picture


Gods of Filmmaking review of Titanic


New York Observer (Andrew Sarris)


Movie Reviews UK   Damian Cannon


Eye for Film (Angus Wolfe Murray)


Eye for Film (Scott Macdonald)


Linda Lopez McAlister (c/o inforM Women's Studies)


The Digital Bits   Bill Hunt (Chris Knox)


Jerry Saravia


Alex Ioshpe


Movie House Commentary  Johnny Web


Movie Vault [Friday and Saturday Night Critic]  Cameron gives in to almost blinding pomposity


DVD Talk (Jamie S. Rich)   10th Anniversary Edition


PopMatters (Jesse Hassenger)   10th Anniversary Edition


Daily Film Dose [Alan Bacchus]  10th Anniversary Edition


DVD Savant (Glenn Erickson)   Special Collector’s Edition (Nate Meyers)   Special Collector’s Edition


Q Network Film Desk (James Kendrick)   Special Collector’s Edition


DVD Verdict (Ryan Keefer)   Special Collector’s Edition


Blogcritics - Collector's Edition DVD Review [Matt Paprocki] DVD review [Rod Armstrong]


James Cameron on Titanic   interview with the director by Rick Schultz


Austin Chronicle (Marc Savlov)


The Boston Phoenix   Peter Keough


Los Angeles Times (Kenneth Turan)


Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times


New York Times (registration req'd)   Janet Maslin


DVDBeaver   Henrik Sylow


AVATAR 3D                                                             B                     86

USA  Great Britain  (162 mi)  2009         Extended cut:  (178 mi)


I didn’t sign up for this shit.      —Trudy Chacon (Michelle Rodriguez)


Most of the 3D movies released this year were animated ventures, where at least in my view, CORALINE (2009) stood out above all others, not only because it had a knock out story, including a parallel universe with a monstrous evil villain, but because the use of 3D was clever, humorous, and always added a wonderment factor to an already richly imaginative children’s universe.  But AVATAR is something else again, because like George Miller’s post-apocalyptic MAD MAX adventures from the late 70’s and early 80’s, this requires nothing less than the invention of an entirely new futuristic landscape that never existed before, that takes one’s breath away by the stunning originality of the concept.  Ridley Scott also comes to mind with his brilliant set designs for futuristic films like ALIEN (1979) and BLADE RUNNER (1982).  But none of these classic sci-fi films were shot in 3D, so while they remain etched in our imaginations for memorable visual designs, AVATAR brings to the table a futuristic sci-fi action adventure story shot using the most transforming 3D technology ever invented.  That and a $230 million dollar budget, once more the largest for any film in history at the time it was made, suggest this is a film that offers a multitude of possibilities.  And it delivers.  While the early look of the film is a hi-tech computer universe that resembles Spielberg’s MINORITY REPORT (2002), where in the year 2154, instead of telepathic pre-cogs that remain submerged in a water tank transmitting the future, science has invented floating avatars in water tanks, genetically engineered humanoids that people can inhabit while plugged into think tanks, where their thoughts guide the avatars every move during waking hours, but no connection exists when they sleep.  This takes on the idea similar to time traveling into different worlds, as once they step into the time machine, they are instantly transported to another world, in this case, the planet Pandora, where the title says it all, as it’s a planet just waiting for the disasters to be unleashed. 


Much like Captain John Smith’s arrival to Terrence Malick’s THE NEW WORLD (2005), Pandora is a kind of planetary Eden, a lush, unspoiled tropical world filled with exotic plants, strange prehistoric looking creatures, and a race of 12-foot tall blue people called the Na’vi that resemble Native American Indians, as they live off the land, take only what they need, and have an intensely close cosmic relationship with the world they inhabit, where they have sacred grounds and refuse to create an imbalance on their planet.  Enter the American business interests, where in a mission right out of ALIEN, a fleet of space cargo and military ships target a precious mineral that exists on the planet which they intend to harvest, with or without the Na’vi’s permission, so Stephen Lang is the gun ho ex-Marine military commander, Sigourney Weaver (amusingly, from ALIEN) is the science officer, and John Worthington as former Marine Jake Sulley steps in at the last minute to take the place of his recently deceased twin brother to complete a mission on the planet, using an avatar that was built for his brother, which fortunately matches his own DNA.  Despite his lack of preparation or familiarity with the actual conditions on the planet, Sulley’s real motivation is to inhabit an avatar, which offers him full use of his extremities, as his own legs are paralyzed.  The exhilaration he feels once he’s transported takes even himself by surprise, as his physical transformation leaves him liberated beyond belief.  But being a Marine, he believes he has no limits, that his training allows him to adapt to anything.  And immediately, on his first mission, he gets a chance to prove it, as he gets separated from his unit and has to spend a night alone on the planet, a sure death sentence, which turns into one of the better sequences in the film, as it’s impossible to anticipate what he’ll encounter next, where it’s like he was transported back to the island that King Kong inhabited.            


At this point, once transported to the world of the planet, the look of the film is nothing less than spectacular.  In fact it’s so extraordinary that we barely notice the story development as it takes on a mish-mosh of other familiar stories, where Sulley is saved inexplicably from savage beasts by a Na’vi woman Neytiri (Zoë Saldana), who could just as easily killed him as a foreign invader, a threat to her world, but she decides to bring this outsider home to her People and let them decide.  As her parents are the King and Queen, they decide their daughter should train him in the ways of their People, which leads us to our first moral crisis, as the military wants to use Sulley as a spy before they move in for the kill, never for a moment doubting what their first priority of business is, which is to take what they came for.  If Sulley can facilitate that mission, so much the better.  But like DANCE WITH WOLVES (1990), he develops a romantic relationship with the King’s daughter, where Sulley eventually proves himself to be accepted by the Na’vi People.  The flying sequence where he learns to fly on the back of a winged creature is among the most awe-inspiring in the film.  But when the military moves in and starts destroying the planet surface in order to excavate what they’re looking for, the Na’vi feel betrayed by their new foreign brother.  When the Army reduces a race of people to racist and derogatory insults before firing a single shot - - therein lies the problem.  The people on this planet are perceived as backwards savages where a few casualties are within the acceptable guidelines.  But when they realize Sulley has taken up their cause, it turns into Miyazaki’s PRINCESS MONONOKE (1997), where humans are waging a battle against the sacred forests, where the creatures of the forest must unite to stand their ground, where a half human, half animal (like an avatar), a human raised by wolves takes up their cause.   


When it turns into an all out assault against the people and their planet, there is the spectacle of battle sequences in 3D, but this endless sense of waste and destruction destroys the purpose of the film.  At some point, wouldn’t the corporate brass get the idea that perhaps this full blown invasion of the planet was unwise, as even the Star Trek TV series had a better reason for space exploration than planet invasion, which violates every known concept of the word justice?  When did our mission in space change from discovering to destroying new worlds?  This shift to planet destroyers should make the entire audience uncomfortable, as it doesn’t wash with our concept of Americans as bearers of peace and democracy.  While this may have been designed to parallel the Bush invasion in Iraq, this is an entire planet we are destroying.  Of course our sensibility is that of horror.  But the death and destruction sequences turn into LORD OF THE RINGS (2001 – 2003), overlong and largely purposeless sequences that make the Americans look foolish and evil, as if crushing the enemy is all that matters, and who gives a damn about their primary mission?  But by the time it all wraps up, the movie it most resembles is THE LION KING (1994), as young Simba has grown to discover he was lied to and misled by one of his own and eventually fights to save his people after the death of his father Mufasa (or the King of the Na’vi people) and all of the pride returns to their sacred grounds and celebrate the reclaiming of their kingdom in order to complete the Circle of Life.  All of this feels much too simplistic, which is unfortunate, as the lame finale overwhelms the superb special effects which are perhaps the most spectacular ever conceived.  None of the characters are memorable, but they are acceptable, yet the original concept of avatars and planet exploration in 3D is absolutely gorgeous until Cameron indulges in video game carnage, an extra hour of old-fashioned Army gadgetry and overly predictable violent mayhem that undermines the brilliance of his totally inspired, electrifying opening.


Cinema Autopsy (Thomas Caldwell) review [4.5/5]

There is not a single frame in Avatar that doesn’t look stunning and authentic: from the heavily militarised human mining colony to the beautiful forest planet Pandora that contains a rare mineral that the humans want, to Pandora’s indigenous Na’vi population who aren’t too happy about the human’s presence. In order to better understand the Na’vi, the humans have developed the means to mentally occupy specially grown avatar bodies that look like the giant, wide-eyed, opaque-skinned Na’vi locals. Sam Worthington (Terminator Salvation) plays Jake Sully, a paraplegic marine who adopts one of the avatar bodies in order to infiltrate and gain the trust of the Na’vi.

Describing Avatar as “Pocahontas in Space” would not be too far off the mark as Jake’s relationship with the Na’vi people follows the white-man-assimilates-into-Native-American-Indian-culture narrative of many post-colonial films. However, Avatar is more in tune with Kevin Costner’s Dances with Wolves (1990) rather than films such as Michael Mann’s The Last of the Mohicans (1992) or Terrence Malick’s The New World (2005), which both contained a slightly more complex exploration of racial and cultural identity.

Avatar is still a white-man-saves-the-day film and it is occasionally guilty of some rather naff moments when depicting the Na’vi as noble-savage types. However, at the core of Avatar is a very simple yet sincere environmental and anti-colonial message that removes all doubt about the film’s good intentions. Besides, such gripes are just so incredibly minor compared to the sheer beauty and exhilarating visuals at the forefront of Avatar. The scenes depicting the forests and floating mountains of Pandora are truly wondrous, the Na’vi and the avatars look incredibly realistic, and the action is exactly the sort of thing audiences have come to expect from writer/director James Cameron.

Cameron has long been at the forefront of setting new standards for high quality spectacle cinema with films such as The Terminator (1984), Aliens (1986) and Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991) rightly regarded as classics of the science-fiction/action genre. With Avatar Cameron not only sets new standards for the use of computer-generated imagery special effects but also the use of 3D photography, which has a full depth-of-field and is integral to the texture and sensory impact of Avatar. Cameron has made no compromises with Avatar from a technical point-of-view and in time it will come to be regarded as a benchmark film.

Village Voice (J. Hoberman) review

The money is on the screen in Avatar, James Cameron's mega-3-D, mondo-CGI, more-than-a-quarter-billion-dollar baby, and, like the Hope Diamond waved in front of your nose, the bling is almost blinding. For the first 45 minutes, I'm thinking: Metropolis!—and wondering how to amend ballots already cast in polls of the year's best movies. Then the 3-D wears off, and the long second act kicks in.

Avatar is a technological wonder, 15 years percolating in King Cameron's imagination and inarguably the greatest 3-D cavalry western ever made. Too bad that western is Dances With Wolves. The movie opens brilliantly with an assembly line of weightless mercenaries disembarking at planet Pandora's earthling (that is, American) base—a fantastic military hustle, with the paraplegic volunteer Jake (Australian actor Sam Worthington) wheeling through a sea of Jeeps, trucks, and galumphing robots. Every shot is a fascinating study, thanks to the plethora of depth-complicated transparent monitors, Kindle-like devices, and rearview mirrors that Cameron has positioned throughout the frame.

The Sky People, as the native Pandorans or Na'vis call them, are on a mission to strip-mine this lushly verdant planet to save their own despoiled world. As preparation, the Sky People are attempting to infiltrate the Na'vis by linking human consciousness to Pandoran avatars. Thus, an all-American jarhead like Jake finds himself inside a 12-foot-tall, blue-striped, yellow-eyed, flat-nosed humanoid with an elegant tail and cute little goat ears—and he can walk!

Beside himself with joy, Jake bursts out of the hospital and, before too long, finds himself alone in a mad jungle surrounded by six-armed neon tetra lemurs, flying purple people eaters, hammer-headed triceratopses, and nasty leather demon dogs. Jake is saved by the jungle girl Neytiri (Zoe Saldana), known in pidgin English as Pocahontas, and brought back to the Na'vi village to meet her father, the king (full-blooded Cherokee Wes Studi, here playing a good Indian). The Na'vis think that investigating Jake will allow them to understand the Sky People. (Little do they know . . . heh, heh, heh.)

The Sky People are divided into hawks and doves, with Jake as a sort of double double-agent, simultaneously reporting back to the most militant Marine meanie (Stephen Lang) as well as the tough but tender biologist (Sigourney Weaver, in full Ripley mode). The former wants him to find out "what the blue monkeys want." The latter knows that the Na'vi are ultra-green—a New Age matriarchal eco-friendly culture spiritually connected to Every Living Thing. (This capacity is better imagined than demonstrated to judge from the mass swaying transubstantiation ceremony held several times beneath a cosmic weeping willow.)

Avatar seamlessly synthesizes live action, animation, performance-capture, and CGI to create what is essentially a non-participatory computer game: Jurassic Park's menagerie running wild in The Matrix's double eXistenZ. When, waking up back in the lab, Jake realizes that "out there is the true world and in here is the dream," you know that it's time for him to go native, complete with tender blue-monkey sex ("We are mated for life"). As in a Jack Kirby comic book, the muscular, coming-atcha visuals trump the movie's camp dialogue and corny conception, but only up to a point. Jake's initiation rites notwithstanding, Avatar itself doesn't reawaken until the bang-up final battle—aerial cavalry incinerating holy sites and bombing the bejesus out of the blue-monkey redskin slopes, Jake uniting the Na'vi clans with inspirational martial music. (The requisite Celtic keening is withheld until the end credits, accompanied by a Celine Dion clone singing in Na'vish.)

Long before the third act, however, the ideologically sensitive will realize that 20th Century Fox has taken a half-billion-dollar risk (counting PR) that perhaps only Rupert Murdoch's studio could afford to take. The rampaging Sky People are heavy-handedly associated with the Bush administration. They chortle over the failure of diplomacy, wage what is referred to as "some sort of shock-and-awe campaign" against the Na'vis, and goad each other with Cheney one-liners like, "We will blast a crater in their racial memory so deep they won't come within a thousand clicks of here ever again!" Worse, the viewer is encouraged to cheer when uniformed American soldiers are blown out of the sky and instead root for a bunch of naked, tree-hugging aborigines led by a renegade white man on a humongous orange polka-dot bat.

Let no one call so spectacular an instance of political correctness run amok "entertaining." I look forward to the Limbaugh-Hannity take on this grimly engaging development—which will perhaps be roguishly interpreted by Sarah Palin as the last stand of indigenous peoples (like Todd!) and women warriors against Washington bureaucrats. At least Avatar won't win James Cameron a Nobel Peace Prize—but, then again, it just might.

The Wall Street Journal (Joe Morgenstern) review

James Cameron's "Avatar" takes place on a planet called Pandora, where American corporations and their military mercenaries have set up bases to mine a surpassingly precious mineral called unobtanium. The vein of awe mined by the movie is nothing short of unbelievium. This is a new way of coming to your senses—put those 3-D glasses on your face and you come to a sense of delight that quickly gives way to a sense of astonishment. The planetary high doesn't last. The closer the story comes to a lumbering parable of colonialist aggression in the jungles of an extragalactic Vietnam, the more the enchantment fizzles. Much of the time, though, you're transfixed by the beauty of a spectacle that seems all of a piece. Special effects have been abolished, in effect, since the whole thing is so special.

The word "avatar" wasn't invented by Mr. Cameron, though everything else in the production seems to have been. (With the help, that is, of a few thousand colleagues around our own planet.) In Hindu myth, an avatar is a deity descended to earth in human form. In computer parlance it's an icon that represents a person in virtual reality or cyberspace. In the movie it's a manufactured body that's remotely controlled—not by some hand-held clicker but through brain waves generated by a human being who functions as the body's driver.

If this sounds technobabbly in the description, it's dazzling in the execution. The main driver-to-be—or, rather, animating spirit-to-be—is an ex-Marine, Jake Sully (Sam Worthington) whose combat injuries have left him confined to a wheelchair. He's part of a scientific program run by a tough cookie named Grace Augustine; she's played by Sigourney Weaver. The program has begun to explore Pandora, whose atmosphere is toxic to earthlings, using avatars with recombinant DNA—part human, part alien—constructed along the lines of the planet's dominant species; they're very tall, very blue, Giacometti-slender and Superman-agile. The movie offers several lyrical passages, but one of the best belongs to Jake. It's when he inhabits his avatar for the first time and discovers that his new legs can take his lithe new body through some of the most sublime scenery on not-Earth.

No description of that scenery will spoil the experience of the 3-D process (which dispenses with the usual eye-catching tricks) or the seamless integration of live action, motion-capture, animation, computer-generated images and whatever other techniques went into the mix—maybe witchcraft or black magic. (I haven't seen the IMAX version; that's for my next viewing.) Some of the flora suggest an anhydrous Great Barrier Reef (airborne jellyfish, coral-colored conical plants that spiral down to almost-nothingness when touched) or, in the case of Pandora's floating mountains, represent an homage to the Japanese animation master Hayao Miyazaki. As for the fauna, they're not only prodigiously varied—flamboyant dragons, six-legged steeds, elephantine chargers with heads like battering rams, nature-blue in tooth and claw—but creatures with convincing lives of their own, unlike the cheerfully bizarre creations that filled the Mos Eisley cantina in "Star Wars."

Then there are the indigènes, the French term for natives being appropriate because Pandora evokes the Indochina that existed before France's doomed war against an indigenous insurgency, as well as the Vietnam that became a battleground for American troops. They're called the Na'vi, and to describe them as humanoid may be to defame them, inasmuch as they, unlike most of the film's Americans, revere their planet and live in harmony with their surroundings. The most beautiful of the Na'vis—at least the one with the most obvious star quality—is a female warrior named Neytiri. As most of our planet already knows from the publicity, Jake falls for her in a big but complicated way.

Big because Neytiri, as played by Zoë Saldana, is so alluring—cerulean-skinned, lemon-eyed, wasp-waisted, long-tailed, anvil-nosed, wiggly-eared (trust me, it's all seductive) and given to feral snarls in the heat of battle. But complicated because Jake is secretly working both sides of the jungle. He's in love with Neytiri, and soon embraces her people's values. (Yes, there's circumstantial evidence that Mr. Cameron knows about "Dances With Wolves," along with "Tarzan," "Green Mansions," "Frankenstein," "Princess Mononoke," "South Pacific," "Spartacus" and "Top Gun.") At the same time, Jake is spying for a gimlet-eyed military commander, Col. Miles Quaritch. (Stephen Lang proves that broad, cartoony acting can also be good acting.) The evil colonel has promised the ex-Marine a procedure that will restore the use of his paralyzed legs in exchange for information that will help chase the Na'vi from their sacred land, which happens to be the only place where unobtainium can be obtained.

It's no reflection on Mr. Worthington or Ms. Saldana, both of whom are impressive—though how, exactly, do you judge such high-tech hybrid performances?—that their interspecies love story lacks the heat of Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet clinging to each other on the storm-swept decks of "Titanic." Teenage girls will not return to see this film half a dozen times or more unless they possess a rogue gene for wigglable ears. But then "Avatar" revises the relationship between everyone in the audience and the characters on screen. Actors have always been avatars; they've always represented our hopes and fears in the virtual reality of motion pictures. In much of this film, however, they've been transformed by technology into a new and ambiguous breed of entertainment icon—not the quasihuman denizens of "The Wizard of Oz," or the overgrown glove puppets of "The Polar Express," but nearly palpable fantasy figures that inhabit a world just beyond our reach.

The fantasy quotient of "Avatar" takes its first major hit when the Na'vi take their first hit from the American military. Mr. Cameron has devoted a significant chunk of his movie to a dark, didactic and altogether horrific evocation of Vietnam, complete with napalm, Agent Orange and helicopter gunships (one of which is named Valkyrie in a tip of the helmet to "Apocalypse Now.") Whatever one may think of the politics of this antiwar section, two things can be said with certainty: it provokes an adrenalin rush (what that says of our species is another matter), and it feels a lot better when it's over.

Other narrative problems intrude. For all its political correctness about the goodness of the Na'vis, "Avatar" lapses into lurid savage rituals, complete with jungle drums, that would not have seemed out of place in the first "King Kong." While Ms. Weaver's performance is a strong one, it isn't clear what her character is doing as an avatar, or how the Na'vi perceive her. What couldn't be clearer, though, is that Mr. Cameron's singular vision has upped the ante for filmed entertainment, and given us a travelogue unlike any other. I wouldn't want to live on Pandora, mainly because of the bad air, but I'm glad to have paid it a visit. (Bill Gibron) review [5/5]


Going Na'vi: Why Avatar's politics are more revolutionary than its images   Sam Adams from The Onion A.V. Club


Avatar and the American Man-child  zunguzungu  December 23, 2009


Avatar and American Imperialism  zunguzungu  January 4, 2010


Slate (Dana Stevens) review


The Auteurs [Glenn Kenny]


Salon (Stephanie Zacharek) review


Sci-Fi Movie Page (James O'Ehley) review


Avatar - Why all the hype?   2-part essay from Sci-Fi Movie, also from Fantastique:  Avatar - To 3D or not to 3D?

Avatar - How They Did It   4-page essay from Fantastique

More photos (photo gallery # 1)  from Sci-Fi Movie, and Part 2:  Avatar photo gallery


fantastiqueZINE [James O'Ehley] (IMAX)


The Land of Eric (Eric D. Snider) review [B-]


n:zone [D.Kelly]


DVD Talk (Jamie S. Rich) review [4/5]


Eye for Film (Anton Bitel) review [4/5]


Pajiba (Steven Lloyd Wilson) review


PopMatters (Cynthia Fuchs) review

Slant Magazine review [2/4]  Nick Schager

ReelViews (James Berardinelli) review [4/4] (Mel Valentin) review [4/5]


Combustible Celluloid (Jeffrey M. Anderson) review [2/4]


The Onion A.V. Club review [C]  Scott Tobias Hollywood Movies (Rebecca Murray) review [A]


One Guy's Opinion (Frank Swietek) review [C]


Film Freak Central review  Walter Chaw (Peter Sobczynski) review [1/5]


Film School Rejects [Neil Miller]


The Cinema Source (Ryan Hamelin) review [A+] (Nick Nunziata) review [Jasper Rees]


Mark Reviews Movies [Mark Dujsik]


CompuServe (Harvey S. Karten) review


Screen International (Mike Goodridge) review (Brian Orndorf) review [C]  also seen here:  Briandom [Brian Orndorf] [MaryAnn Johanson]


Digital Spy [Stella Papamichael]


AVATAR  Ken Rudolph’s Movie Page


Urban Cinefile (Australia) - [Andrew L. Urban + Louise Keller]  Justin Bateman [Alonso Duralde]


CNN Showbiz (Tom Charity) review


Twitch [Mike Sizemore]


Feo Amante [E.C. McMullen Jr.]


Gizmodo (Mark Wilson) review


Little White Lies [Limara Salt] (Kiko Martinez) review [B+]


Conservative backlash against "Avatar"   Andrew Leonard from Salon, January 5, 2010


Entertainment Weekly review [B]  Owen Gleiberman


Variety (Todd McCarthy) review


Time Out London (Tom Huddleston) review [2/6]


The Guardian (Andrew Pulver) review


Peter Bradshaw reviews Avatar  The Guardian, December 17, 2009


Avatar: review of reviews of James Cameron's 3D space opera  Catherine Shoard from The Guardian, December 11, 2009


King of the world?  David Thomson from The Guardian, December 17, 2009, also seen here:  David Thomson on James Cameron 


Avatar shows cinema's weakness, not its strength  David Cox from The Guardian, December 21, 2009


The Daily Telegraph (Sukhdev Sandhu) review [3/5]


The Daily Telegraph (Mark Monahan) review [4/5]


James Cameron says Avatar a message to stop damaging environment  brief comments from The Daily Telegraph, December 11, 2009


The Independent (Anna Keir) review [4/5]


Cameron sees metaphor for Earth in 'Avatar'  a brief chat with the director from The Independent, December 11, 2009


Avatar: James Cameron's rhapsody in blue  Ann Hornaday from The Washington Post, also seen here:  Washington Post (Ann Hornaday) review


Sinking in $380 million on 'Titanic's' director  Michael White from The Washington Post, December 18, 2009


Austin Chronicle review [4/5]  Marc Savlov


San Francisco Chronicle (Amy Biancolli) review [3/4]


Los Angeles Times (Kenneth Turan) review


Chicago Tribune (Michael Phillips) review


Chicago Sun-Times (Roger Ebert) review [4/4]


The New York Times (Manohla Dargis) review  December 18, 2009


Fan Fever Is Rising for Debut of ‘Avatar’  Michael Cieply from The New York Times, April 24, 2009


Blockbuster Trailer: The Selling of ‘Avatar’  Michael Cieply and Dave Itzkoff from The New York Times, August 21, 2009


The ‘Avatar’ Trailer: What Did We Just See?  Dave Itzkoff from The New York Times, August 21, 2009


A Movie’s Budget Pops From the Screen   Michael Cieply from The New York Times, November 8, 2009

Film: Alternate World, Alternate Technology   John Anderson interviews the director from The New York Times, December 10, 2009

Video Game Review | 'Avatar: The Game': Fighting an Energy Crisis With Very Little Energy   Seth Schiesel from The New York Times, December 17, 2009

David Brooks: The Messiah Complex  David Brooks editorial from The New York Times, January 9, 2010

Campanella, Juan José


THE SECRET IN THEIR EYES (El secreto de sus ojos)      B                     88

Argentina  Spain  (127 mi)  2009  ‘Scope          Official Web Site


The Argentina that's coming isn't taught in Harvard. —Inspector Báez (José Luis Gioia)


Hard to fathom how any jury of film-goers would pick this film over the lyrical grace and sinister happenings in Michael Haneke’s chilling THE WHITE RIBBON, or the pulsating energy and ultimately transforming prison drama of Jacques Audiard’s intensely riveting THE PROPHET, or even the generational violence confronting mixed Arab and Jewish neighborhoods from Israel in Scandar Copti and Yaron Shani’s AJAMI, each of which addresses incendiary hot button issues with much more flair than this conventional DR. ZHIVAGO-like love story set against a police procedural murder investigation during the rise of the fascist military dictatorship in Argentina’s Dirty War in the mid 70’s, historical themes that barely scratch the surface and instead relies upon the familiarity of the viewer.  It came as a complete surprise to me that the director of the Academy Award winning foreign film category this year had already directed 16 episodes of Law & Order: Special Victims Unit on American television, paying his dues, so to speak, in the crime genre before adapting an Eduardo Sacheri novel and then directing, editing and even producing the film.  Ricardo Darín plays Benjamín Espósito, a criminal investigator who works out of the office of the court rather than a police station, establishing the evidence needed for the district attorneys, but his position is viewed more like a legal aide or clerk, where there’s a distinctive social divide and pay scale between the two classes.  Told through a series of flashbacks, the film moves back and forth in time from the present in 2000, where a retired Espósito is attempting to write a novel about an old murder case, to Buenos Aires in 1974 when it actually happened, filled with a murky backdrop of political corruption.  The attorney he works for is Irene Menéndez Hastings (Soledad Villamil), an American educated beauty who is part of the wealthy Argentinean aristocracy, and as such is off limits to Espósito, despite his immediate and everpresent fascination with her.  The film is as much about exposing their undeclared love as it is about re-examining the implications of a decades-old murder case. 


Espósito is at first staggered by the degree of brutality associated with a vicious rape and murder case of Liliana Coloto (Carla Quevedo), a young newlywed whose husband Ricardo Morales (Pablo Rago) impresses him with his steadfast devotion, even after her death, as after the police beat the confessions out of a few innocent laborers, immediately exposed as fraudulent by Espósito himself who comes to blows with the judge on the case, the police simply drop their interest leaving the case unsolved and leaving Espósito and Morales alone as the only two in the world who still care.  Espósito’s assistant, Pablo Sandoval, colorfully played by Guillermo Francella, spends more time in local bars than at his desk, but he and his drunkard associates have a brilliant breakthrough on the case which comes from understanding the nature of having an obsession.  Suddenly the camera is whooshed into a giant soccer stadium, swooping in from on high with the stylish grandiosity of a Brian De Palma-like shot as Espósito is certain he’ll find his killer there, where miraculously, like finding a needle in a haystack, they do while the camera remains hot on his trail, chasing him through the innards of the stadium, all supposedly in the same unbroken shot where there’s admittedly an explosion of energy that is perhaps the highlight of the film.  What follows, however, never lives up to that moment, relying instead on a theatrically induced confession, the kind that only happens in the world of television and the kind that would be inadmissable by any judge, but nonetheless Isidoro Gómez (Javier Godino) is sentenced to life imprisonment, an appropriate resolution for a country without the death penalty.


Soon afterwards, however, Gómez is seen free on the streets as part of the Presidential security detail, a stunning turn of events, released by the same judge Espósito fought with earlier in the film who reveals with blunt arrogance the new facts of life to an astonished Espósito, whose life is suddenly turned upside down by a miscarriage of justice on a national scale where sociopathic thugs and murderers are recruited by the secret police to do the nation’s dirty work in tracking down and interrogating suspected rebel terrorists, almost all of whom simply disappear without a trace.  In the creepiest scene of the film, one right out of the horror genre, Gómez, brandishing his gun, gets on an elevator with Espósito and the district attorney, a scene that exposes just how vulnerable they are without protection and how impotent justice has become, a fitting metaphor for their extinguished romantic notions that play out like an old-fashioned Hollywood melodrama in a prolonged scene at the train station where parting is such sweet sorrow.  People led such different lives then, so much so that now, when they look in the mirror at their reflection, they don’t recognize themselves anymore.  It’s as if there was a memory fissure in their past reality that has never been put back into place properly, leaving them still with unanswered questions, wondering how it all could have happened in the first place, tacking on an optimistic ending to what was a particularly well edited, yet also formulaic film, where the romance was always yearned for, reduced to secondary consideration as reading between the lines becomes key, but somehow we’re to believe that it all rises into prominence again at the finish lineonly in the movies.  Shot on hi-def video, this unfortunately tends to wash out the colors and over-accentuates all the pores and crevices in the facial close-ups, which gives the appearance of wearing a rubber mask, all unintentional I’m sure, but hi-def video gives the picture such a low grade appearance.  Since that’s the standard look of Hollywood films today, most viewers don’t give it a second look, but as this was awarded the Best Foreign Film of the year, it’s worth pointing out that the look is unexceptional.         


SECRET IN THEIR EYES, THE (El secreto de sus ojos)  (d. Juan José Campanella; Argentina) *** 3/4  Ken Rudolph’s Movie Site

A retired prosecutor revisits an unsatisfactorily closed 25 year old rape-murder case by writing a novel.  This is the set-up for an intriguing cold case procedural which exposes layers of past Argentinian government corruption through flashbacks to the time of the case itself.  This is another in a long series of great roles for star Ricardo Durín, who, with just a little make-up and subtle changes in posture, successfully plays his character at two different ages.  It's an altogether fascinating puzzle of a film which kept me on tenterhooks throughout.

Time Out New York review [3/5]  Keith Uhlich

Winner of the 2010 Best Foreign Film Oscar, this decade-hopping, tone-shifting mystery-thriller-romance from Argentina is about as deep as a kiddie pool, which isn’t to say it’s an unpleasant frolic. Separated by time and circumstance, retired criminal-court employee Benjamín Esposito (Darín) and his former-superior-cum-unrequited-love, Irene (Villamil), revisit an unresolved case from years before. It’s a lurid little tale of a beautiful woman raped and murdered, a doting husband (Rago) who wanted revenge and a killer (Godino) who went free thanks to the country’s tumultuous political climate.

Director Juan José Campanella—who recently put a butchtastic Kathy Griffin through her paces on Law & Order: Special Victims Unit—does yeoman’s work, save for a faux single-take in a packed sports stadium that’s clearly devised to impress. The camera swoops in from above, settles among the crowd, and switches points of view with “look, Ma, no hands!” effortlessness as Esposito chases down a suspect. But it’s so enamored with its own brilliance that the people get lost in the swirl.

Not that there’s much to these characters to begin with, since they bow to the story mechanics rather than drive them. Everyone is more or less defined by their hair…or lack of it. (There are fake baldpates in this film that would make Telly Savalas sue for defamation.) Darín and Villamil make for an attractive couple, no matter what age-aiding prosthetics the makeup department throws at them. And the resolution of the murder plot—part O. Henry, part EC Comics—is an ironic lip-smacker that concludes the mostly rote proceedings on a giddy high note.

The Onion A.V. Club review [B-]  Scott Tobias

It was considered surprising when this year’s Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film went to the Argentinean thriller The Secret In Their Eyes, which bested the higher-profile likes of A Prophet and The White Ribbon. But Secret turns out to be exactly the type of film the Academy traditionally honors: intelligent but conventional, an actor’s showcase with glossy production values, and a little too polite. To be fair, The Secret In Their Eyes lands higher than most on the prestige-o-meter; it turns the mysteries surrounding a graphic rape and murder into an ambitious, gratifyingly adult puzzle about love and loss, the perversions of the justice system, and how memory can illuminate and distort the truth. What it lacks is the passion and vision to bring all those ideas across. The film sprawls across two decades and 127 minutes, but there isn’t a memorable image in it.

Based on the novel by Eduardo Sacheri, The Secret In Their Eyes opens with Ricardo Darín, a retired criminal-court employee, struck by a sudden compulsion to write a novel about an unsolved rape and murder from 20 years earlier. He enlists the help of former colleague (and now judge) Soledad Villamil, for whom he still harbors romantic feelings, though she isn’t entirely enthusiastic about the project. Flashing back to the late ’70s, when the crime was committed, the film details how Darín and co-worker Guillermo Francella were originally involved in the case, and how sweeping political changes at the time fatally corrupted the investigation. 

Writer-director Juan José Campanella (Son Of The Bride) has a lot of experience helming American TV procedurals like House and Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, and The Secret In Their Eyes wends smoothly through the complexities of the case and the political and romantic histories that inform it. Though unimpeachably intelligent and sophisticated, the film nonetheless has no grit under its fingernails: Here’s a story about a crime of passion, unrequited love, and political upheaval, yet Campanella keeps it all at arm’s length. Like his haunted lead character, he tries to tell a personal tale from a novelist’s distanced perspective, and in that, he’s successful to a fault.

The Wall Street Journal (Joe Morgenstern) review

An old Olivetti typewriter provides a running joke in "The Secret in Their Eyes," the Argentine drama that won a foreign-language Oscar last month—the machine can't type the letter 'A.' And the letter 'A' makes all the difference in the world when the hero inserts it in the middle of a one-word note, 'temo,' that he has written to himself. Then 'I fear' becomes 'I love you.' These are clever details in a drama that transcends cleverness. This beautiful film, directed with subtlety and grace by Juan José Campanella, really is about moving from fear to love.

The story begins in contemporary Buenos Aires, when Benjamin Espósito, a retired criminal investigator played by Ricardo Darín, decides to revisit a cold case—the brutal murder of a young woman—by writing a novel about it. In doing so he revisits his still-warm case of love for Irene Menéndez Hastings (Soledad Villamil), a Cornell-educated lawyer, now a judge with a husband and children, who was a beautiful young prosecutor when they worked together a quarter of a century ago.

If you were diagramming the script, which the director and Eduardo Sacheri adapted from Mr. Sacheri's novel, you might divide it between these two elements, an unsolved murder and unresolved love. No movie in memory, though, is less schematic. Elements intertwine. Feelings emerge, recede, resurface. Wit and humor—and remnants of hope—sustain lives burdened with regret. The movie is very much a murder mystery, and very much a love story—in fact a pair of stories about obsessive love lived out by two men with ostensibly different attitudes toward the past, and very different outcomes. It's also a meditation on the passage of time and the uses of memory, an argument for never looking back—"You'll have a thousand pasts and no future," the murder victim's husband tells Benjamin (with what turns out to be startling irony)—and, in a romantic vein, an advertisement for acting on love at whatever time of life.

Exceptional movies are often about many things, and that's certainly the case with this one. I can't recall a more dramatic interrogation than the scene in which a suddenly ferocious Irene tries, to Benjamin's astonishment, to break an implacable suspect. Or a more engagingly odd couple than Benjamin and his colleague Sandoval, an investigator with a fondness for wry jokes and booze. Or a more poignant leave-taking, when Irene and Benjamin embrace but don't kiss, and fear trumps love. (All of it is enhanced by Félix Monti's burnished, sometimes brooding cinematography.)

Of the two previous films I've seen starring Ricardo Darín, "Son of the Bride," which was also directed by Mr. Campanella, is out of print on DVD—please, Sony Pictures Classics, reissue it—but "Nine Queens" remains available, and I've discussed it in more detail elsewhere on this page. A formidable actor with commanding star quality, Mr. Darín, who is in his sixties, plays Benjamin in his thirties persuasively—the actor's vitality is more important than his young-age makeup. In the present-day passages he makes the hero an aging sophisticate whose urbane demeanor conceals suppressed but far from extinguished passion. Ms. Villamil's Irene is quick-witted and alluring in the past and present alike. In a film of impeccable performances, three other standouts are Guillermo Francella, who plays Sandoval; Pablo Rago as Morales, the bereaved husband whose love was almost unfathomably pure; and Javier Godino as the prime suspect, Isidoro Gómez, a figure of pure malevolence at a time in the 1970s when Argentina's military dictatorship was bringing evil back into style.

The New Yorker (David Denby) review

In Buenos Aires in 1974, a criminal-court investigator, Benjamin Espósito (Ricardo Darín), arrives at a crime scene bantering and cursing with a colleague, and sees the naked corpse of a beautiful young woman. A conventional Argentine male with a passionate reverence for female splendor, he’s stunned into silence; he appears to take the woman’s violation (she has been raped, beaten, and murdered) as an affront to his personal sense of order. Not only does he relentlessly pursue the killer; he draws close to the woman’s husband, a bank employee named Morales (Pablo Rago), who remains obsessed with his dead wife for the rest of his life. “The Secret in Their Eyes,” which won the Oscar this year for best foreign-language film, is, I suppose, a legal thriller, but it’s powerfully and richly imagined: a genre-busting movie that successfully combines the utmost in romanticism with the utmost in realism—Espósito, it turns out, has a love of his own, which he’s too abashed to act on. A few scenes approach the melodramatic kitsch of a telenovela, but the writer-director, Juan José Campanella, working with the screenwriter and novelist Eduardo Sacheri, sends us deeper into mystery and passion; the movie presses forward with a rhapsodic urgency and with flashes of violence and pungent humor. “The Secret in Their Eyes” is a finely wrought, labyrinthine entertainment whose corners and passageways will be discussed by moviegoers for hours afterward as they exit into the cool night air.

The movie opens in 2000, and Espósito, gray-bearded, is at his desk, writing. It is twenty-five years after the murder, and the investigator, retired yet still fascinated by the case, is assembling his recollections of it. What he writes is played out by the actors, but he angrily throws away each recollection as an inadequate first draft, and that scene disappears from the screen. Campanella is seriously teasing us: Espósito may be dissatisfied with his prose, but what he depicts in these first-draft attempts actually happened (we see the scenes again later, in their proper place in the story). Back in 1974, Espósito chases the killer with the aid of his antic partner, Pablo Sandoval (Guillermo Francella), and their cautious superior, Irene Menéndez Hastings (Soledad Villamil), a judge’s assistant. (In Argentina, judges act like D.A.s, investigating cases and indicting suspects.) Educated in the United States, Irene (as she’s referred to throughout) is a tall, brilliant upper-class beauty with a big head of black hair—think of a young South American Susan Sontag. She’s clearly on her way to the top (by 2000, she’s a powerful judge). Espósito is an intelligent man with penetrating dark eyes, but he’s not a lawyer, and the difference between them in income and status stops him from openly declaring his love for her, which she keeps hinting that she wants. Instead, he worries about Sandoval, an alcoholic genius who rises from the depths of a midday stupor in a bar and pulls together the clues that lead to the identity and the arrest of the murderer. Sandoval is a lovable mess, who, despite his gifts, can’t survive amid the chaos and the repression of Buenos Aires. The movie is haunted by missed opportunities and the meaningless, unhappy passage of time—the underside of obsession.

The murderer is a furtive creep named Gomez (Javier Godino), and what follows his capture is altogether startling. When Espósito, interrogating him, doesn’t get anywhere, Irene takes over. She turns the questioning into a sexual duel, taunting Gomez’s manhood, her words more wounding and more effective than a beating with brass knuckles. Campanella, who works in both the United States and Argentina, has directed numerous episodes of “Law & Order,” but what happens in this scene is not something you’ll see on American television. Irene understands the loathing of women at the heart of Argentine machismo; she plays a sarcastic bitch in order to provoke Gomez’s rage, and enjoys a triumph that pushes feminism beyond a critique of men—beyond ironic mockery, too—into a kind of legal-world performance art.

From scene to scene, the movie has an enormously vital swing to it. Espósito is a knight-errant of the law who seeks justice, and Sandoval is his Sancho Panza, while the judges (apart from Irene) are profane and corrupt political hacks; the back-and-forth among the court workers is juicy and explicit, sometimes hilarious, sometimes sinister, while the atmosphere outside the courts is savage. The dictator Juan Perón dies in 1974, and is succeeded by his wife, Isabel; it’s the time of the death squads, the disappearances, and legal anarchy. Gomez is freed by one of the judges and becomes a bully boy for the new fascist regime. He’s a serious threat to Espósito (Irene is protected by her wealthy family), and a provocation to Morales, the dead woman’s husband. Years go by, and, for most Argentineans, the time between the rule of the Peróns and the rise of democracy may be lost in a way that goes deeper than the lost love of two colleagues. Yet Campanella does no more than hint at the anguished political background of the story; he mostly sticks to his principal players, who are woven together in an increasingly intricate structure, revealed by an inventive and flexible camera. Campanella moves in for prolonged, emotionally wrenching closeups, as in a Garbo drama from the nineteen-thirties. He also does fluent and muscular sweeps: when Espósito and Sandoval first discover Gomez, in a soccer stadium, the camera, exploding with animal energy, pursues him, loses him as he ducks down a ramp, picks him up again. There may be no “signature” shot here, as in the work of an established auteur, but there’s an effortless mastery, from moment to moment, of whatever the dramatic situation requires.

Slate (Dana Stevens) review


Twitch [Todd Brown]


Slant Magazine [Aaron Cutler]


ScreenCrave [Tom von Logue Newth]


Mark Reviews Movies (Mark Dujsik) review [3.5/4]


CompuServe (Harvey S. Karten) review


Monsters and Critics [Ron Wilkinson]


Cinema Signals (Jules Brenner) review [4/4]


Movies Kick Ass [Jose Solís]


The Oscar-Winning Ridiculousness of The Secret in Their Eyes  Nicolas Rapold from The Village Voice (Patrick McDonald) review [4.0/5] [Kent Turner]


Cole Smithey [Cole Smithey]


Entertainment Weekly review [B]  Lisa Schwarzbaum


The Hollywood Reporter review  Deborah Young, also seen here:  Reuters [Deborah Young]


Variety (Jonathan Holland) review


The Globe and Mail (Rick Groen) review [4/4]


Boston Globe (Wesley Morris) review [1.5/4]


Miami Herald [Rene Rodriguez]


San Francisco Chronicle [Mick LaSalle]


Chicago Sun-Times (Roger Ebert) review [4/4]


The New York Times (Manohla Dargis) review


Dirty War - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia


Argentina Dirty War 1976 - 1983  Global Security


The Dirty War in Argentina  National Security Archive


Argentina: Secret U.S. Documents Declassified on Dirty War Atrocities  National Security Archive


Campbell, Martin


BEYOND BORDERS                                 C-                    69

USA  (127 mi)  2003


A film that supposedly travels into Ethiopia, Cambodia, and Chechnya can't be all bad, and there was a relevant story to be told about the difficulties of getting humanitarian aid to those that need it.  Unfortunately, it's not told in this film, which is instead filled with too many clichés,  sometimes resembling the Christian Missionary Television Network, with a truly bad performance by Angelina Jolie who just seemed too immature and way over her head in this film.


Beyond Borders  David Denby from the New Yorker


High-minded romantic drama set against "strife-torn" (there is no other phrase) backgrounds. The sensationally charismatic Clive Owen is Nick Callahan, a fiery London doctor who devotes himself to the mangled poor in Ethiopia, Cambodia, and Chechnya. Angelina Jolie, with a witchy drape of black hair surrounding her face, is Sarah Jordan, a married American who keeps leaving her husband (Linus Roache, in a pathetic role) and traipsing after the doctor, showing up with supplies and keen moral intuitions. They have stormy arguments that are, one supposes, a kind of relief workers' foreplay, and finally get passionate in various uncomfortable climes. The movie is not worthless—some of the backgrounds are vivid and scary—but it can't break free of its old-Hollywood silliness. 


EDGE OF DARKNESS                                          B                     88

USA  Great Britain  (117 mi)  2010  ‘Scope


Like the recently released British TV drama, The Red Riding Trilogy (2009), which is a set of 3 movies written by the same man but directed by 3 different directors, all having a common serial killing storyline as well as corruption within the Yorkshire police force, this American film is based on a 6-part 1985 British TV mini-series, each just under an hour in length, where both just happen to be directed by the same man.  This gives him particular insight into the material where he transplants British nuclear fears of the 80’s into the American present, using a murky governmental cover up to add special interest.  This is like a trip into those 1970’s paranoid thrillers of THREE DAYS OF THE CONDOR (1975) or PARALLAX VIEW (1974) where high echelon elected representatives or uniquely specialized CIA agents cozy up to professional contract killers in order to protect the secrecy of their operations, which are usually lucrative defense contracts working on dangerous, top secret missions where there’s plenty of money involved and they don’t wish to disupt the cash pipeline.  Closer to home would be SILKWOOD (1983), a fairly accurate accounting based on the true story about Karen Silkwood, a low level employee at a nuclear power plant who becomes aware of the power plant’s practice of exposing employees to dangerously high levels of radiation, who, on her way to spill the beans to a newspaper reporter, is suddenly killed in a car accident under suspicious circumstances that have yet to be solved.  Similarly, a murky shadow of doubt hovers over the death of Amma Craven (Bojana Novakovic), the daughter of Boston Police detective Tommy Craven (Mel Gibson), gunned down at their front door.  Initially suspecting the bullet was meant for him, his inquiries soon lead to a governmental cover up regarding his daughter, who was a research scientist at a private defense contractor called Northmoor, where she was killed before she could blow the whistle on some of the company’s illegal practices. 


Of course, none of this is known right away, but takes extensive investigative visits to various people involved, some who fear for their lives, usually company employees, most of whom believe they are being followed or under surveillance, and the corporate executives (Danny Huston) who prefer lying to his face, hiding behind the ambigious phrase, “That’s classified information.”  Risking his own life several times over, but hell bent on solving his daughter’s murder, he soon learns she was placed on a terrorist watch group, probably by the same company she worked for, making her an easy scapegoat in the event they incurred problems they couldn’t publicly explain.  Making this even more murky are the Deep Throat visits to Craven by Ray Winstone, the burly, no nonsense professional fixer who was hired by the company (off the books) to sort this mess out.  But interestingly, his allegiance is not necessarily with the company, as he’s a strange and mysterious figure who seems to operate under his own rules.  The scenes between he and Gibson are among the best in the film due to their undisputed credibility for cutting through the bullshit.  They are a pleasure to watch.  But meanwhile, he discovers his daughter was poisoned by radioactive milk that’s been sitting in his refrigerator, probably infecting him as well.  But since he doesn’t go see anyone about it, it’s an open question that is never really answered, because once the company senses the trouble he could cause them, they have their own way of dealing with it which is much more direct, and includes tasering him into a state of unconsciousness before locking him into a room blasted with toxic radiation.  Knowing the limits this places on his life, his sense of urgency and desperation only grows greater, as he’s running out of time. 


Mel Gibson in revenge fantasies have been poetry in motion since he broke into the business in MAD MAX (1975), and despite not having acted in a movie in 8 years, preferring instead to direct several controversial films, he hasn’t missed a beat.  One of the visually spectacular images in this film is the picture of Northmoor itself, which like a planetarium is a concrete structure that noticeably sits atop a rolling, tree-lined hill overlooking a sleepy river that snakes its way through the Berkshires, where through the floor to ceiling glass windows of the building one can gaze at the pastoral beauty for miles in very direction.  It’s curiously ironic that such a conspicuous modern architectural masterpiece would be the site of what are supposedly top secret operations.  But those spectacular windows in particular hide the transparency they suggest, as the criminal protection racket they really operate actually takes place behind locked doors and could just as easily be an underground bunker.  There’s an odd bit of whimsy in this film as well, as Mel routinely talks to the ghost of his dead daughter, which becomes a pronounced theme, including the use of flashback home movie images, all of which connects the dots between the living and the dead and the precarious position we face from our own impending mortality.  In its own way, this movie suggests its our own future that lies in jeopardy unless we open our eyes to the masterful deception that is taking place in the dark corridors of our own government.               


Time Out London (Wally Hammond) review [2/5]

We may have moved from veiled Cold War to explicit global terror in the 25 years since the excellent, UK-set nuclear conspiracy thriller ‘Edge of Darkness’ first aired on the BBC, directed by Martin Campbell (‘Casino Royale’) and written by Troy Kennedy Martin. It’s also been some eight, traumatic post-9/11 years since Mel Gibson’s last thespian outing in M Night Shyamalan’s ‘Signs’. But time seems to have stood still in Campbell’s drab remake for the big screen. With its nuclear concerns and old-fashioned heroics, it feels like a period piece.

In condensing the original mini-series into a conventional, two-hour package, scriptwriters William Monahan and Andrew Bovell have sadly sacrificed some of the original’s cultural specificity and its slow-burn quality. Moreover, in relocating from northern England to the US’s Eastern Seaboard, they have jettisoned much of the chilling atmospherics. Craven, the widowed police officer whose engineer daughter (Bojana Novakovic) is gunned down on a home visit, is now one of Boston PD’s finest; and if it’s true that Gibson, in the role, recalls the earnest intensity and investigative zeal of Bob Peck’s original performance, he also brings a lot of unwanted ‘Lethal Weapon’-era manic mannerisms to the part.

It’s basically a ‘little guy against the system’ movie, literally so in many of Campbell’s framings – for instance, where he miniaturises Gibson’s now slightly wizened figure against the looming bulk of Danny Huston’s smarmy corporate bad guy. However, Ray Winstone, as a boozy high-level fixer in pointed contrast to Craven’s ginger-ale-drinking sobriety, does offer good value in what is otherwise a surprisingly low-wattage and anonymously directed thriller.

The Onion A.V. Club review [C]  Keith Phipps

Mel Gibson has been away from the cameras for a while, and he appears a little scuffed up in Edge Of Darkness, his first starring role since Signs in 2002. He looks greyer and craggier than before, and his stiff movements make it easy to forget his former athletic grace. Whatever the source of that wear and tear, it at least helps him look the part in this revenge thriller, which casts him as a Boston cop looking for answers after seeing his daughter (Bojana Novakovic) gunned down on his own front porch. Director Martin Campbell, adapting a well-regarded BBC miniseries he directed in 1985, goes further than merely failing to hide the ravages of time, trouble, and hard living. He puts his diminutive tough-guy star next to actors who tower over him, in shots that subtly drive home the same point: As often as we’ve seen Gibson get out of scrapes in the past, his odds don’t look so good this time.

Those choices serve the film, too, which compels Gibson—sporting a thick, occasionally believable Boston accent—to unravel a far-reaching conspiracy involving his daughter’s employer, a private industrial concern overseen by a silky, amoral Danny Huston, whose character needs only a mute Korean manservant to qualify him for a supervillain license. With each lead Gibson follows, he discovers he’s taken on not a dragon, but a many-headed hydra. 

Edge Of Darkness gathers all the elements of a smart, politically resonant thriller, but leaves them only half-assembled. That might partly be due to the need to compress a sprawling plot into a two-hour frame; a pattern of investigation, interrogation, exposition, fisticuffs, and repetition takes over the movie after a while. But it’s mostly because Gibson crowds out anyone and anything competing with the displays of righteous fury he’s leaned on since Braveheart. In spite of attempts to make him seem vulnerable—which include a bunch of maudlin conversations with his character’s dead daughter—this is really a movie about the power, and grim pleasure, taken by a man building up a static charge of rage as he searches for the right target. Huston, Ray Winstone (playing a puppetmaster of puppetmasters), and other recognizable faces all do fine character work, but Edge Of Darkness quickly devolves into another showcase for Gibson’s snorting-bull act, a routine he could happily have shelved during his time off.

theartsdesk [Adam Sweeting]

If you were looking for a director for the movie version of Edge of Darkness, you'd have thought you couldn't do better than Martin Campbell, who made the original 1985 series for BBC television. He's now a bona fide Hollywood ace, with a string of major TV credits and hit movies like Casino Royale and the Zorro flicks to his name. But not even a Tinseltown budget can bribe lightning to strike twice, and whatever fortuitous combination of timing and subject matter turned the BBC series into an instant historic event, it's difficult to imagine that happening to its big-screen incarnation.

While Campbell and screenwriters William Monahan and Andrew Bovell have transplanted the action from Yorkshire to Boston, Massachusetts, they have at least stuck to the basic outlines of Troy Kennedy Martin's original. When his daughter Emma (Bojana Novakovic) is killed by a shotgun blast on the doorstep of his home, grief-stricken police detective Thomas Craven (a world-weary Mel Gibson) is naturally determined to track down her killer. Early assumptions that Craven himself was the hitman's intended target crumble as he unearths evidence that Emma was involved with an environmental group trying to expose a conspiracy involving illicit nuclear weapons at the Northmoor defence plant, where she was a low-level employee. Shadowy hitmen and intelligence figures start coming out of the woodwork to make sure Craven's discoveries never see the light of day. Craven goes into lone-wolf mode and makes it his mission to find answers and avenge his daughter.

The snag is, where the original Edge... brilliantly captured a mood of fear and dread about the nuclear industry, intensified by the authoritarian mood of the Thatcher-Reagan years, the course of events over the last 25 years mean that we've become woefully inured to the routine scale of corporate and governmental lies and deception (there's a televised inquiry currently in progress along these very lines). Indeed, the somewhat cursory manner in which the movie introduces us to a bent lawyer, a corrupt Senator and a murderous business executive, not to mention a far-from-upstanding Boston police officer, impart the dispiriting sense that the film-makers are suppressing a yawn and going through the motions. It's hardly surprising when, after two hours, you find you've just sat through a creakingly average conspiracy thriller, lacking a single character you could really care tuppence about. Not even Ray Winstone (pictured below) can kick much life into the vaguely-defined security fixer Darius Jedburgh.

The Kennedy Martin original was also distinctive in articulating a resounding ecological warning, setting up a confrontation between mankind's malign, misguided tinkering and the mythic power of Mother Nature. Hence he called his eco-activist group GAIA, referring to a hypothesis in which earth is its own living biosystem. In the movie the activists belong to something called Night Flower, and references to any kind of spiritual dimension have been reduced to Craven's imaginary conversations with his dead daughter.

You'd have to conclude that Campbell and his writers have missed a major trick here. James Cameron's Avatar may be simplistic, but vital to its huge success is surely its timely connection to issues of ecological awareness and protecting the environment. This might have been a major weapon in the Edge of Darkness locker too, but it makes no attempt to reach for anything beyond the literal surface of the action. The story's emotional force supposedly derives from a lonely man trying to deal with the aftermath of his much-loved daughter's murder, but Edge-the-movie settles instead into a routine shoot-'em-up where stone-faced Mel metes out comeuppance to the scumbags. While he's committed to avenging Emma's death, he shows no glimmer of comprehension of the issues that she  considered important enough to risk her life for. As remakes go, file this alongside The Italian Job and Get Carter.

City Pages, Minneapolis/St. Paul (Nick Pinkerton) review

"Did you shoot my daughtah?" is the question posed, in flat-voweled Bostonian, in the trailer for Edge of Darkness. And Mel Gibson, much-bereaved and much-vengeful, from Hamlet to Ransom to Revolutionary America, sets out to settle another score.

Gibson is Thomas Craven: veteran, homicide detective, lonesome widower. His daughter, a post-grad intern at a research and development firm in the Berkshires, is visiting home when somebody fires a gun in front of his house. Craven, left lonelier, wants to find out who did it, the first link in a long chain of whos and whys that leads him up the food chain. As in the film's predecessor—a Yorkshire-set 1985 BBC2 serial, with Bob Peck as Craven—the investigation of what's supposedly an open-and-shut botched payback killing by an old collar opens into something much bigger, revealing a sweaty commingling of private and public sectors.

Director Martin Campbell, most famous for James Bond relaunches, is revisiting old material—as a hot-handed U.K. TV director, he shot the original six-part, six-hour cult-classic miniseries from a Troy Kennedy Martin script. For the film, mysteries unspool more quickly, while peripheral characters and "color" scenes without expository purpose—Peck bawling on the M1, a Brit ballroom competition on TV—have disappeared.

What's left is propulsive and streamlined, with Craven more single-mindedly focused on finding and damning the guilty. When Peck went to question his daughter's boyfriend, it was a psychological duel, the uncomfortably intimate father-daughter relationship a jealous undercurrent. When Gibson makes the same visit, it's for a knife fight (his paternal love now purged of anything unseemly). This change in character may not have been intended—there have been rumors of reshoots to punch up the action at the studio's behest—but this Edge is a vigilante movie. Which isn't to say it's simply a downgrade from Anglo sophistication to Hollywood slam-bang. Given the film's focus on bereavement—it is haunted by the dead—bodies drop with actual weight here. And the culmination is that rare shootout that can truly be called cathartic.

Kennedy Martin's Darkness unfolded in the shadows of Cold War espionage and the arms race of the Reagan-Thatcher era. The 2010 incarnation is still political: Danny Huston's man-behind-the-curtain CEO disguises his rogue dealings in "jihadist dirty bombs" as experiments in clean, green energy. He has pictures of himself shaking hands with Bush II and Nancy Pelosi and, in what would have seemed a sci-fi touch a year ago, one of the implicated parties signing off on his private "security fiefdom" is a Republican senator from Massachusetts.

Some of the off-the-record Corridors of Power stuff is well done, but the scenes feel haphazardly placed, not quite of the same movie as the Gibson revenge flick. Ray Winstone's Jedburgh, a bon viveur government troubleshooter with ambiguous loyalties, who consults on and monitors Craven's investigation, never quite integrates either. The 1985 Jedburgh was a CIA good ol' boy in London—and while it's fun to watch Brit Winstone and Gibson trying to out-heavy one another, the transatlantic role-reversal doesn't quite work. Most Americans in 2010 don't fear the crown in the way the average Briton of '85 was concerned about American influence. At times it seems as if Jedburgh's sole mission is to deliver the script's more portentous lines: "We live awhile, and then we die sooner than we planned."

Gibson has been absent from the American screen since 2004. He's squandered his industry clout with risks both planned (The Passion of the Christ) and, assumedly, not (the passion for conspiracy theory). One wonders—certainly Warner Bros. suits will—if off-screen events have made it impossible for audiences to swallow him as a character. Yet Gibson still knows what he does best, as a star should, and creates tension just from never letting the tears poised in his eyes fall. Onscreen much of the time, thicker and more creased than you remember, he can make this rather unshapely movie seem taut.

Digital Spy [Stella Papamichael]


DVD Talk (Jamie S. Rich) review [2/5]  also seen here: - theatrical [Jamie S. Rich]


Monsters and Critics [Anne Brodie] (Rob Gonsalves) review [4/5]


Mark Reviews Movies (Mark Dujsik) review [3/4]


PopMatters (Cynthia Fuchs) review


The Wall Street Journal (Joe Morgenstern) review


Slant Magazine [Ryan Stewart] (Bill Gibron) review [3/5]


Screen International (Mike Goodridge) review


Screenjabber review  David Franklin


A Nutshell Review [Stefan S]


The Flick Filosopher (MaryAnn Johanson) review


Eye for Film (Donald Munro) review [3/5]


ReelViews (James Berardinelli) review [2/4]


Film Freak Central review  Ian Pugh


DVD Talk (Tyler Foster) review [1/5] (Brian Orndorf) review [C]  also seen here:  Briandom [Brian Orndorf]


Total Sci-Fi [Matt McAllister]


Urban Cinefile (Australia) - [Andrew L. Urban + Louise Keller]


CompuServe (Harvey S. Karten) review


One Guy's Opinion (Frank Swietek) review [C]


RopeofSilicon (Brad Brevet) review [C-]


Little White Lies [Tom Seymour]


Combustible Celluloid (Jeffrey M. Anderson) review [2/4]


Frank's Reel Reviews review  Loron Hays


FromTheBalcony [Bill Clark]


Mel Gibson: back with a vengeance  John Hiscock interviews Mel Gibson from The Daily Telegraph, January 21, 2010


Entertainment Weekly review [B]  Owen Gleiberman


The Hollywood Reporter review  Michael Rechtshaffen


The Globe and Mail (Liam Lacey) review [2/4]


The Daily Telegraph review [2/5]  Tim Robey


The Independent (Anthony Quinn) review [1/5]


Austin Chronicle review [2/5]  Marc Savlov


San Francisco Chronicle [Mick LaSalle]


Chicago Tribune (Michael Phillips) review  also seen here:  Los Angeles Times [Michael Phillips]

Chicago Sun-Times (Roger Ebert) review [2.5/4]

The New York Times (A.O. Scott) review


1949 Living Room in the Berkshires on Flickr - Photo Sharing!


1940s Interiors - a set on Flickr


Grasshopper Chair by Saarinen - The Mid-Century Modernist


Campion, Jane


Campion, Jane  Art and Culture

Jane Campion’s lush study of repression, "The Piano," contains an enduring image: high cliffs tower over a deserted beach, waves crashing and rolling upon the cold sand. Deposited in the tide is a black piano, a misplaced presence seemingly dropped from heaven. It is a solitary signifier of humanity in the wild heart of nature.
The film's story focuses on Ada (played by Holly Hunter), who arrives in New Zealand as a mail-order bride. Ada is mute, presumably stripped of her voice by the patriarchal forces of the Victorian era. The piano represents her sole means of expression: a symbol for freedom, sexuality, and the romantic vision of life.
Such are the symbols and characters typically explored by Campion, whose films address social pressures and the prisons of femininity. Her first feature, "Two Friends" (1986), tells the story of a pair of girls whose childhood bond is torn apart as they each adapt differently to imminent womanhood. One retains her prim and proper schoolgirl ways, while the other becomes a full-blown punk. The innocence of their friendship is destroyed by the external demands of gender and sexuality. "Sweetie," Campion's next film, explores similar tensions between two sisters, one of whom is "normal" but deeply insecure, while the other is outrageous, imperious, and mentally ill.
Perhaps Campion's most disturbing look at "abnormal" women comes in 1990's "An Angel at my Table," her film about the autobiographical writing of Janet Frame. Gifted but stigmatized by her impoverished upbringing and odd manners, Frame was diagnosed as schizophrenic and forcibly institutionalized for eight years. The film is terrifying in its portrayal of padded rooms, shock therapy, and the threat of lobotomy. Because she uses her art to retain her unique identity, Frame is the type of subject that attracts Campion.
Campion herself is no stranger to the pressure to conform: she knows the trials of being a female director in a field dominated by men. Yet even her more recent, big-budget projects persist in their focus on women's struggle for self-definition. "The Portrait of a Lady" (1996), adapted from the Henry James novel, asks us to identify with its heroine's efforts to break from a manipulative marriage.
And her efforts have been noticed: Campion was the first female director to receive the prized Palme d’Or at Cannes. She was originally given the award for her early short, "Peel," then won it again for "The Piano." "The Piano" also brought her an Academy Award for best original screenplay.

TCMDB  profile from Turner Classic Movies

Along with Australian directors Gillian Armstrong, Jocelyn Moorhouse and Shirley Barrett, Jane Campion has emerged as a major feminist filmmaker. She has been responsible for some of the most acclaimed films to have originated from Down Under since the late 1980s. Her features all have one thing in common: a powerful, courageous woman as a central figure. From Genevieve Lemon's unhinged "Sweetie" (1989) to Kerry Fox's mentally troubled Janet Frame in "An Angel at My Table" (1990) to Holly Hunter's mute Ada in "The Piano" (1993) to Nicole Kidman's manipulated Isabel Archer in "The Portrait of a Lady" (1996), the lead in a Campion film provides a showcase for the actress and advances the director's desire to display private, often erotic, sides of women rarely portrayed in conventional Hollywood fodder. Although some critics have found her work self-conscious, the majority have praised her originality.

The roots of her skill can be traced to her upbringing and education. Born in Wellington, New Zealand to theatrical parents (her father was a director, her mother, an actress), Campion displayed an early interest in art; she was also an accomplished, but idiosyncratic artist, with an eye toward the unusual. (This would later manifest in her use of camera angles and in the set pieces she created in her films.) Although interested in acting, Campion studied anthropology in college and later ventured to Europe where she studied art in Venice. Migrating to London, she found work as an assistant to a director of commercials and documentaries before she moved to Australia. Enrolling in art school, Campion began to experiment with film and shot her first short, "Tissues", about a father who had been arrested for child molestation. Furthering her education at the Australian Film, Television and Radio School, Campion went on to complete several award-winning shorts, including "Peel" (1982), centering on a power struggle over discipline between a child and his father, and her thesis, "A Girl's Own Story" (1984), which introduced her themes of women, sexuality and rites of passage.

After marking time in the Women's Film Unit, a government-sponsored program for which she directed the short "After Hours" (1984), about sexual harassment, and a detour to TV with the longform "Two Friends" (1986), Campion made her feature debut with the darkly stylish "Sweetie" , a disturbing study of familial tensions brought about by a mentally unstable young woman. Acclaimed for its visual style, strong performances and comic originality, "Sweetie" earned prizes from the Film Critics Circle of Australia and the Los Angeles Film Critics Association.

Campion's second feature "An Angel at My Table" was originally intended as a TV-movie. Working from a script by Laura Jones, adapted from the autobiography of New Zealand writer Janet Frame, the director fashioned a biopic that detailed an unconventional story. Tracing Frame from her awkward childhood through a nervous breakdown and stay in a mental institutions to her eventual fulfillment as a writer, Campion once again displayed a flair for observant detail and lush visuals. It is an intimate look at an atypical central figure, a shy, plain woman who defines herself through her writing.

In 1984, fresh out of film school, Campion began working on a screenplay about the colonial past of New Zealand. Over nearly a decade, she developed the project into what became her most acclaimed feature to date, "The Piano", an intensely erotic story told from the female perspective. The story is fairly simplistic: a mute woman (Holly Hunter) enters into an arranged marriage and moves halfway around the world with her illegitimate daughter (Anna Paquin) and her piano. Her new husband (Sam Neill) refuses to transport the instrument and sells it to a settler gone native (Harvey Keitel). The purchaser agrees to return the piano if the woman teaches him how to play. Again Campion's hallmarks of gorgeous photography (the landscape almost becomes another character) and strong performances align to produce a remarkably original Gothic drama. "The Piano" earned numerous awards, including the Palme d'Or at Cannes (the first for a woman director). Campion became only the second woman nominated for the Best Director Academy Award. Although she lost in that category, she did win for her screenplay, as did Hunter for Best Actress and Paquin for Best Supporting Actress.

Campion's long awaited follow-up was an adaptation of Henry James' novel "The Portrait of a Lady", written by Laura Jones and starring Nicole Kidman. Critics were divided; some found it static and miscast, while others praised its intelligence and the director's injection of sexual matters hinted at in the original. Next Campion and her sister Anna co-wrote the screenplay for her next directorial effort, "Holy Smoke" (1999), in which an Australian family hire a noted cult deprogrammer (Harvey Keitel) to retrieve and restore their errant daughter (Kate Winslet) from an Indian guru. Their subsequent battle of wills, which as in all Campion efforts also takes on an overpowering sexual component, drives the narrative, but while the film starts out extremely promising and Campion teamed with yet another actress as fearless as she is talented, the ultimate execution was flawed, murky and unsatisfying.

A planned reunion with Kidman was in store for Campion's next effort, "In the Cut" (2003), an adaptation of Susanna Moore's novel, but the ever-in-demand Kidman's schedule required her to cede the role to another actress (though Kidman stayed on a producer). Campion cast a maturing Meg Ryan, looking to break out of her sterotypical adorable parts, as a troubled New York writing professor who, after becoming involved in a crime, becomes embroiled in an erotic and dangerous affair with a police detective. Once again, Campion put the psycho-sexual politics of her characters in sharp relief and had a willing collaborator in Ryan, who agreed to a controversial full frontal nude scene, but again the outcome was uneven, with the director's singular vision bogged down by the conventional thriller elements grafted onto the story.

All-Movie Guide  bio from Rebecca Flint Marx


Cinema Nation Identity: Jane Campion. Department of Communication ...  a nice, thorough biography


Film Reference  profile by Rob Edelman


Jane Campion   Fincina Hopgood from Senses of Cinema


Directors: Jane Campion   bio and brief film reviews by D.K. Holm from Cinemonkey


OZ : People : Jane Campion  a brief, early bio


Jane Campion | Biography (born 1954)   bio and website


Jane Campion's Top 9 - The Criterion Collection


Jane Campion: Memory, Motif and Music  Geraldine Bloustien from Continuum: The Australian Journal of Media & Culture, vol. 5 no 2 (1990)


Jane Campion: a complete retrospective  Peter Keough from the Boston Phoenix, January 28, 1999


Jane Campion: interviews  Harriet Margolis on Virginia Wright Wexman’s book, Jane Campion: interviews, from Screening the Past, November 12, 1999 - feature item - Jane Campion by Dana Polan  Jane Campion, by Dana Polan, a book review by Jason Wood


Jane Campion  Where the Boys Are, essay by Jessica Hundley from Salon, March 22, 2000


A Pleasure to Watch: Jane Campion's Narrative Cinema  Sue Gillet from Screening the Past, March 2001


Where are the women? Jane Campion is the lone female director in ...  Where are the women? Jane Campion is the lone female director in Cannes film project, International Herald Tribune, May 20, 2007


Campion, Jane  They Shoot Pictures, Don’t They


“We are all Isabel Archers” A “Bonne Femme” Conversation with Jane ...   Sophie Menoux talks with the director November 25, 1998


Interview: Jane Campion  Scott Tobias from The Onion A.V. Club, September 22, 2009


Jane Campion - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia



Australia  (9 mi)  1982

from imdb Author: postmanwhoalwaysringstwice from usa:

Jane Campion's 1982 short film "An Exercise in Discipline: Peel" is an interesting study of character, relationships, and to a degree the way that the camera can capture these elements. It follows three people traveling in a car along a small stretch of a country road. Indicated right away are the relationships of the people involved, who are said to be real people: a father, his son, and the father's sister. The bored son is goofing off by throwing orange peels out the window, and the father gets ticked off, and everything escalates from there. The film examines how inconsequential arguments leave us at a standstill. Ironically the resolution to the argument here is reached by ignoring it. At only nine minutes, Campion's short is to the point, and a near perfect expression.

from imdb Author: krorie from Van Buren, Arkansas:

This was New Zealand writer/director Jane Campion's first film, showing all the imaginative talent that would later garnish her an Oscar for the magnificent "The Piano" in 1993. Much is revealed in a short nine minute time span about an impatient man with a short fuse, a disenchanted, petulant woman, and a brat of a child. It is obvious that the man and boy are father and son (they even look alike). The woman seems out of place. She is listed in the credits as the man's sister, ergo the boy's aunt, yet she seems emotionally distant from the two.

"Peel" is an appropriate title, applying literally to the peeling of the orange that starts the commotion that leads to confrontation, and figuratively signifying the peeling away of the outer skins of the trio to lay bare the inner turmoil and conflict. The first phrase of the title, "An Exercise in Discipline," is used in a sardonic sense. There is little discipline involved in the battle among the three where emotions run amok and a ripple effect occurs from child to adults. What begins as a tussle between father and son for domination and control ends as a stalemate with father and son teaming up against the sister/aunt. To further emphasize the ignorance and stupidity exhibited, the entire show takes place along a busy public highway in broad daylight.

On a higher plane, Jane Campion indicates that major battles which may destroy individuals, families, and nations often begin over the silliest of occurrences, in this case the peeling of an orange and throwing the husk out a car window. The narrow minded among us can become so stubborn concerning minor infractions of rules and regulations that we forget how mundane and harmless such actions really are. The man decides this after much ado when the boy picks up all the pieces save one that have been strewn along the roadway. He surrenders to the boy's wishes and wistfully places the boy atop his shoulders to return to the parked car only to begin a new war with his sister, who is late for her destination as a result of the orange peels fiasco.

Color adds to the effectiveness of the allegory with the bright shades emphasizing the frayed emotions, lost tempers, and broken dreams. "Peel" is a much underrated short by a gifted artist.


Australia  (13 mi)  1983

from imdb Author: postmanwhoalwaysringstwice from usa:

Jane Campion's "Passionless Moments" is a short film containing ten short films. More than being simply short, they are tiny. The film deals with nonsense that goes through one's mind that no one dares share when asked "what are you thinking about". It's really a wonderful concept for a short film, and the result is a funny, touching piece of work. It would be impossible to pick a favorite bit, and truthfully it would do a disservice to the film itself to try and express the actual occurrences in each mini-short. It might be worth noting that Gerard Lee was indicated in the credits as ex-director. Perhaps that's why the finished product has far more visible passion than the sketches themselves, which comes straight from the filmmaker's chair.

from imdb Author: bfinn from United Kingdom:

A remarkable first short film by a student (or fresh out of film school) - as much for the script as anything else. I happened to see it on TV as a teenager and then made various other people watch it too when I spotted it coming round again.

The film simply shows a series of short quirky moments in people's everyday lives. For example, a man stretches his arm as he wanders out of his house, and this gesture is mistaken by a neighbour who thinks he's waving at him.

Quirky moments such as these have since become the stuff of observational comedy, except that the ones depicted here are so small that they would pass quite unnoticed if not isolated and commented on by this film.


Australia  (27 mi)  1984

from imdb Author: postmanwhoalwaysringstwice from usa:

Jane Campion's 1984 short film "A Girl's Own Story" is an overall stronger film than her previous work. It tells a far more cohesive story, has sharper camera work, and involves a better group of performers. It's tells an engaging story about a growing up a teenage girl in the 1960's with domestic squabbles, hormones and Beatlemania all running high. It is a very relate-able and moving film on many levels, and it impressively handles serious subject matter such as idolatry, infidelity, same sex experimentation, and incest. Unfortunately with a film that has so much going for it, the poor 1980's musical score and rather long ending keep it from being excellent.

Best Short Narrative Films of All Time   Gerald Peary

TWO FRIENDS – made for TV

Australia  (76 mi)  1986


The Onion A.V. Club [John Gustafson]

Before Jane Campion began making lumbering big-budget films about mute pianists and Henry James heroines, she gained a well-deserved critical reputation for her complex character studies of troubled young women (Sweetie, An Angel At My Table). Two Friends, her 1986 debut, finally makes its video premiere, and it's one of the best examples of her early craft. It's the story of two young girls and their friendship's dissolution, told in a reverse chronology, from the last sputtering hope that the girls might reconcile to a dizzyingly happy moment in their lives nine months earlier. That's hardly a novel structure anymore, but Campion and screenwriter Helen Garner put it to surprisingly effective use here. Garner is smart enough to create a series of backwards episodes that focus on psychological continuity instead of plot threads; that's a choice that answers most of the important questions about who the characters are, while still leaving intriguing loose threads between episodes. And Campion is skillful enough to squeeze both realism and poignancy out of almost every scene with her strong ensemble of actors. Two Friends was originally produced for Australian television, presumably inexpensively, and although some restoration work has been conducted for its video release, the soundtrack is still far from ideal. Since this flaw is coupled with subtle dialogue spoken in Australian accents, some viewers may find Two Friends difficult to follow at times. But if you stick with it, it's well worth the effort.

Tucson Weekly [Stacey Richter]


THE FIRST FEATURE film by Jane Campion, director of The Piano, is scheduled to play this weekend at The Screening Room, and it's well worth taking a trip downtown to check it out. The 1986 film, Two Friends, has all the hallmarks of Campion's early work--it's subtle, offbeat and surprisingly funny, though the theme as a whole is one of sadness and loss.

Two Friends traces the friendship of two adolescent, Australian girls through several rocky months in their lives and relationship. Instead of progressing, the film follows the pattern of Pinter's Betrayal and tells the story by hopping backwards through time. At the beginning of the film, the friends Kelly (Kris Bidenko) and Louise (Emma Coles) couldn't seem more different. Louise is a rather straight-laced parochial schoolgirl concerned with getting her homework done; Kelly is a fuming punkette drop-out living on the beach with some guy. The two girls don't see each much of each other and their friendship seems to have broken down. Each time the story jumps back in time, we see a little bit of Kelly's dissolution undone until, at the end of the movie, she is as balanced and full of hope as Louise.

By moving back in time, Campion and Helen Garner, who wrote the screenplay, accentuate the sadness of Kelly's incremental loss of innocence. Sharper even than this loss is the sense that Kelly is being somehow broken by the adults around her, who refuse to notice she is clever and talented. Louise, by contrast, has much more supportive parents who worry about buying her a case for her French horn. One of the things that makes this film so good is how complex and layered the relationships between the characters are. Louise, for example, seems to feel guilty that her life is so much easier than Kelly's, and this drives the two even further apart.

Campion shows enormous sensitivity to the problems of girls in this film. Unlike American fantasy versions of female adolescence like Clueless, she takes the problems of girls very seriously, in a wider, social sense and also on a case-by-case basis. In other words, she treats them as whole people, complicated, worth watching, and not always agreeable. You practically have to see Two Friends to realize how rare this is, though Campion achieves a similar feat in Sweetie, and Anna Paquin's role in The Piano had something of this complexity about it too. At one point Kelly has been left alone at her father's house with one of his male friends, and for some reason she wanders into his room and curls up next to him in bed. The man begins making out with her; she responds for a minute, then jumps up and runs out into the street. It's a disturbing but perceptive depiction of a lonely adolescent girl testing out her new power of sexuality.

Campion achieves all this without much cinematic fanfare. In fact, her technique in Two Friends is fairly minimal, with mostly wide, stationary master shots. Campion seems more interested in the variety of human emotions in Two Friends than in telling a story in a conventionally cinematic way. Characters wander in and out of the frame at will, and it's pretty much up to the audience to decide which part of the story is significant. This is not the Jane Campion of The Piano; there's nothing operatic or overwrought about Two Friends. There are few beautiful, sweeping shots. Instead it's more reminiscent of her fabulous short Peel (which is out on videotape), a deadpan, uncannily funny little film about a family battling over a discarded orange rind.

The only problem with this technique is that without the lip-reading help of close-ups, it gets difficult at times to understand the Australian slang and accent of the girls, who nosh on "Vegemite" and describe undesirable boys as "daggy." Despite this, the performances of the young actors in this film are so natural, and Campion's style is so unadorned, that at times Two Friends begins to seem like a series of real-life vignettes, something almost unheard of in Hollywood movies. Bidenko, as the rebellious Kelly, is especially interesting to watch, not only because of her fine, low-key performance, but because she doesn't look like an actress at all. With her big legs, pink skin and unsympathetic face, she looks more like a bad-girl teen guest on Jenny Jones than someone who'd turn up on the silver screen. In such choices, Two Friends is always an unusual film.

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Australia  (97 mi)  1989


Time Out


Kay (Colston) fears darkness and the secret, stifling power of plants; her teenage sister Dawn (Lemon) is crazy, throwing tantrums at all and sundry, and dreaming, unrealistically, of stardom. When the latter and her bombed-out boyfriend (Lake) arrive unannounced at the suburban home Kay shares with her equally loopy lover Lou (Lycos), all hell breaks loose. Tragedy looms. And all the aforementioned is played, partly, as comedy. Campion's first theatrical feature is a remarkable, risky exploration of the weird and wonderfully surreal undercurrents that can lie just beneath the surface of everyday suburban life, ordinary folk harbour dark, unfathomable obsessions, phobias and desires, and a familiar world is unsettlingly distorted by grotesque close-ups, harsh overhead angles and narrative ellipses. Amazingly, as she veers without warning from black comedy to bleak melodrama and back again, she manages to make us laugh at and like her confused, barely articulate characters, so that her dénouement is simultaneously ludicrous and deeply affecting. Sweetie confirms Campion as a highly original movie talent.


Edinburgh U Film Society [Kelly Steele/Cordelia Stephens]

Jane Campion's feature debut focuses on the lives of a dysfunctional family set against a backdrop of ordinary suburbia. Kay livens up an otherwise dull existence with an unhealthy interest in superstition. She pursues and wins the heart of Louis on the basis of a tea-leaf prediction., and they consequently move in together; sharing the same "spiritual plane".

The spell is broken when Kay tears out Louis' newly planted tree; relations start to rot as Kay changes overnight to an emotional and sexual invalid. Enter Sweetie, Kay's mentally ill sister. Arriving. out of the blue one night Sweetie suffers the deluded conviction that with Bob, her producer-cum-lover, she will "walk through doors" into the world of entertainment. She exults in her new-found freedom away from the family nest, whilst Kay refuses to entertain the notion of letting her stay, convinced that she is a "dark spirit" and thus the scene is set for conflict between two sibling opposites. Into this chaotic spectacle walks Dad, suffering woefully with the separation from his frustated wife who has gone into the bush to find herself amongst the jackaroos.

Sweetie is notable for the use of bizarre wide-angle shots in enclosed spaces, combined with lurid set colours - these contribute to the angst and tension within the family unit. The contrast of incongruous people, situations and events with ostensibly mundane environment hints at something more corrupt and sinister underlying the suburban dream.

Washington Post [Hal Hinson]

In "Sweetie," Jane Campion's unsettlingly original, macabrely funny first film, the camera seems to capture its images from never-before-seen angles. Everything in the universe Campion has created is just slightly off-kilter, as if the Earth had positioned itself awkwardly beneath your feet. The film's subject is family life, but voices seem to call down from the flowers on the wallpaper, and every crack in the sidewalk threatens danger. It's about family life as Kafka might have viewed it.

From its opening shots on, the film unfolds a mood of enveloping peculiarity. In essence, "Sweetie" is a horror movie; it's about the horror of having relatives who crowd in, wear your clothes, occupy your guest room and, without the slightest urging, attach their lives to yours.

Deeper down, though, there's another layer, and this is where Campion is happiest. She likes it when family turbulence is repressed and springs out in freaky new shapes. Campion's style isn't articulate; it's based, in fact, on inexpressiveness, on the thoughts that get tangled up and don't quite work themselves to the surface. Her jokes, too, hit you upside the head, like Freudian snowballs zinging in from nowhere.

The movie is slow to bring its own themes to the surface (it never fully does), busying itself instead with laying out its shadowy, suggestive atmosphere. The first section introduces us to a bony Australian named Kay (Karen Colston), who wears her dark hair in bangs that drop like a curtain just above her brow. Peeking out from underneath are a pair of huge, panicky eyes that appear to be on perpetual alert for signs of some invisible menace.

When we first see her, Kay is lounging on her bed above a floral-printed carpet, and the way Campion has shot it, the image might seem idyllic -- a sort of dreamy transcendence on a leafy bank of clouds -- if, on the soundtrack, she weren't talking about the hidden powers of trees and how, as a little girl, she was afraid that the big ones outside her house had sinister designs and were growing their roots out under the house to get her.

Campion, who comes from Australia, develops the film narrative according to its own dark, neurotic logic. After a visit to a fortuneteller who tells her she is to encounter a man "with a question mark on his face," Kay meets Louis (Tom Lycos), whose front forelock curls down to a mole on his forehead. Having decided that fate has played its hand, the couple immediately set up house, where things go along well enough until Louis plants a scraggly baby arbor in the back yard, rekindling Kay's childhood tree terrors.

The sapling, of course, cannot be allowed to survive, and there's an eerie hilarity in the way Kay yanks it out of the ground in the middle of the night and appears, ever so subtly, to strangle the life out of it. This "death" signals the end of the couple's sex life. Claiming that she has a cold, Kay moves into the room across the hall. But even after the cold has vanished she can't bring herself to move back. And though neither of them is particularly happy about it, every night, just before hitting the hay, the couple kiss good night, like brother and sister, and lock the doors to their separate bedrooms.

At this stage, with the arrival of Kay's sister, Dawn (Genevieve Lemon), the movie shifts gears. Nicknamed "Sweetie," Dawn is a well-upholstered nightmare with dyed jet-black hair, black fingernails and cradle-born dreams of a glamorous show-biz life. Materializing out of thin air with her boyfriend-producer, Bob (Michael Lake), an upright slug who's either a junkie or a narcoleptic, Sweetie seems to have only one purpose in life and that is to set Kay's teeth on edge. At first, Kay won't even claim her as family. "I didn't have anything to do with her. She was just ... born."

Like a child star gone to hideous seed, Sweetie is the most wholly unsympathetic screen creation since Dennis Hopper's Frank in "Blue Velvet." And while watching her, we're aware that Campion is intentionally taking us to the edge of revulsion, daring us to push her character away. Still, even after Gordon (Jon Darling), the girls' father, arrives, all forlorn because his wife has left him to work out West for a bunch of cowboys, and we see how sickly manipulative the family relationships are, our disgust becomes more complicated but perhaps even more urgent.

As skilled a creator of otherworldly moods as Campion is, "Sweetie" doesn't have much narrative drive, and I found it vastly more compelling in the beginning, when Kay was center stage, than after the destabilizing arrival of her sister.

Still, I loved the way Campion and cinematographer Sally Bongers make the natural and the unnatural (human) landscapes appear lush and supersaturated with color, but at the same time barren, minimalist. Also, a scene in which the jackaroos dance a dusty sunset waltz in the cowboy camp has an almost serene eccentricity. The images imprint themselves instantly into your memory. In making her first film, Campion has done thrillingly atmospheric work, and in the process, established herself as perhaps the most perversely gifted young filmmaker to rise up in years.

On the Road With Jane Campion  and  Sweetie: Jane Campion’s Experiment  Criterion essay by Dana Polan


Sweetie (1989) - The Criterion Collection


More Than Meets The Eye: Sweetie  Sue Gillett from Senses of Cinema


DVD Savant  Glenn Erickson, also here:  Turner Classic Movies


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Australia  New Zealand  Great Britain  (157 mi)  1990


Monica Sullivan from Videohound’s Independent Film Guide:


Jane Campion’s AN ANGEL AT MY TABLE began life as a three-part series on New Zealand television, which (dare we say it?) is the best way to see this 157-minute movie.  After all, it is based on three different autobiographical  novels by Janet Frame, To the Island, An Angel at My Table, and The Envoy from Mirror City.  Kerry Fox plays Frame, who was misdiagnosed as a schizophrenic and spent eight years in a mental institution receiving electroshock therapy before the error was corrected.  Extremely well acted and directed, AN ANGEL AT MY TABLE is nonetheless very heavy going all at once – especially first thing in the morning, which is when most reviewers see new movies.  This explains (if not excuses) all the bad tempers and bad manners one is likely to observe at press screenings.  AN ANGEL AT MY TABLE won many awards over the world, but then so did BREAKING THE WAVES and any number of worthy candidates which are long, depressing, and make you feel like a heel for wanting to watch SULLIVANS TRAVELS instead. 


Time Out


Though adapted for television from three volumes of autobiography by New Zealand writer Janet Frame, Campion's film is both wholly cinematic and true to her own preoccupations. Her subject is the privations and anxieties of childhood and adolescence, the weird absurdity of ordinary life, and the disconcertingly thin line between normality and madness, all depicted with an unsentimental honesty that veers abruptly (but never jarringly) between naturalism and surrealism, comedy and tragedy. As the introverted Frame - a plain, bubble-haired redhead born into a poor, close-knit family in 1924 - progresses through school, college and erroneously diagnosed schizophrenia towards final liberation as a respected writer, Campion deploys a wealth of economically observed details to explore her heroine's passionate, deceptively placid perceptions of the world. There are none of the usual artist-biopic clichés here. Frame, as embodied by three uncannily-matched actresses, is bright but intensely, awkwardly passive, and inhabits a chaotic, arbitrary universe. Watching her hard, slow struggle for self-respect, happiness and peace becomes a profoundly moving, strangely affirmative experience.


An Angel at My Table  Terrence Rafferty from the New Yorker


Based on the autobiography of the New Zealand novelist and poet Janet Frame. The film covers the first forty years or so of the writer's life—she was born in 1924—and takes close to three hours to tell the story. When it's all over, you feel that you know far too little about Janet Frame and far too much about the film's director, Jane Campion. The movie (which was made as a three-part miniseries for Australian television) is a succession of odd, mannered tableaux, more or less in the style of Campion's 1990 art-house hit, "Sweetie." The compositions emphasize the peculiarities of Janet's appearance, especially in her childhood and awkward adolescence: she has a stiff, frizzy mop of bright-orange hair, and her teeth are badly decayed. The Janet Frame we see in this film doesn't seem to have an inner life, and without that she has no life at all. Even the most dramatic events in her life are treated so flatly and elliptically that we're unable to respond; time after time, we find that we can't orient ourselves in crucial scenes, because the director hasn't bothered to establish the characters or the setting. Writers' lives are weird enough without being subjected to this sort of willful disruption of their emotional continuity. Campion's perverse exercise in biographical filmmaking deserves a new title: "My Incomprehensible Career." Janet is played by three actresses: as a child, by Alexia Keogh; as a young teen-ager, by Karen Fergusson; and, as an adult, by Kerry Fox. Screenplay by Laura Jones. 

eFilmCritic Reviews  Dr. Isaksson


From the moment you set your eyes onto Jane Campion's "An Angel at My Table" you are completely swallowed into the film's overwhelming atmosphere. This is the film adaptation of renown New Zealand writer Janet Frame's own autobiographies. Spanning from Janet's magical childhood to her later, more challenging years, "An Angel at My Table" never softens it's brutal truth and never loses it's focus while depicting Janet Frame's amazing rise from a shy farm girl to a prize winning author.

From the outset of 1990's An Angel At My Table, we are led into the life of Janet Frame, visiting her as a child and seeing the goings on of her large but close knit family. We watch as the young, frizzy haired Janet discovers a life-long love for literature as steps awkwardly through the daily hardships of poverty and family troubles. These early scenes are filmed with such a childish honesty that you almost feel as if you are watching a documentary and not an acted film. As she reaches her teenage years, Janet Frame comes to a crossroad. She must become a teacher to make a living and in doing so, finds trouble in discarding her dreams of being a writer. (That dream being the strongest passion in her life.) As she reaches early adulthood, Janet's (played by the brilliant Kerry Fox) unhappiness and crippling shyness leads her down a path that noone could expect. So eager to trust others, Janet Frame stumbles into a dark realm of misery and hardship almost too horrific to describe. However, her years of suffering and uncertainy are just the beginning of the amazing journey she is set to make. And as that new course of life begins you realize that An Angel At My Table isn't just going to show you a life incomplete, but a life of the most unbelievable occurrences and of great joy and great accomplishment.

The most amazing aspect about An Angel At My Table is the uncompromising and heartfelt lead performance by Kerry Fox. When she is on the screen, she gives you Janet Frame, body, mind, heart and soul. I have rarely seen such impeccable acting in my life and feel all the more richer that I was given the chance to see Kerry Fox in all her glory. She is nothing short of a revelation. The other young women who portray Janet are almost equally great. Through her childhood years, Janet is played by a chubby little wonder named (Alexia Keough). Her face is charmingly captured by Jane Campion in an honest and no frills light that sets the film's truthful and strong beginning. As a teen Janet, the quality of acting continues as (Karen Fergusson) assumes the role. Amazingly, the actresses are so convincing and look so much alike that you can easily believe you are watching the same person.

As far as the look and feel of An Angel At My Table goes, Jane Campion's direction can be just as harsh and unbending as it is soft and beautifully stunning. She has an amazing knack for capturing the most unflinching scenes of human emotion and then can stun you with her jaw dropping shots of the glorious New Zealand landscapes. You KNOW full well that Campion truly loves her work and the subject she has taken the task to portray. The film is just brimming with love. The music score for the film by Don McGlashan is another absolutely gorgeous standout. Full of moody dark atmosphere as well as shining joy, McGlashan's music plays in your ear long after the film has ended. Wonderful!

For me to say that Kerry Fox and Jane Campion deserved Best Actress and Best Director Oscars for this film would be an understatement. They are FAR above the plastic praise Hollywood has to offer. Their work is a testament that truly great films can (and do) come in small, foreign packages.

It is almost impossible to go into elaborate details concerning An Angel At My Table becuase it is simply an all embracing look at a human's incredible life. Most surprising, in all this, as a viewer, you never lose sight of the film's ultimate aim. That even in the darkest hour, no matter what is stacked against you, one of the most glorious of all powers blessed inside the human frame is the unstoppable, unbreakable, spirit.

"An Angel At My Table" is simply a masterpiece. Showcasing one woman's journey through days of childish joy, fragile teenage uncertainty, harsh grown up reality, and ultimately the neverending quest for self-fulfillment.

Slant Magazine [Eric Henderson] 


Director Jane Campion initially conceived of her adaptation of poet/novelist Janet Frame's series of autobiographies as a TV miniseries. Only into production did the New Zealand Film Commission suggest a theatrical release, apparently because the biopic is the singular genre that looks, feels, and acts like episodic television and still plays nominally well in movie theaters. An Angel at My Table, named from the volume of Frame's memoirs that recounts her elongated residence in a psychiatric ward, is no doubt a heartfelt tribute to a soft-spoken, melancholic writer from a director who claims to cherish her work as being very important in her own development. And though it's shackled to that unyielding, difficult narrative structure of most biopics, this quality also works to the film's benefit as Frame's life is unspooled with the same sort of scenes-as-brushstrokes impressionism of Im Kwon-taek's Chi-hwa-seon.

But whereas Chi-hwa-seon becomes increasingly restless and elliptical as it goes on, culminating in one of the most poetic representations of an artist stepping into legend (via a kiln), An Angel at My Table begins at the height of Campion's mottled isolationist whimsy—showing a baby Janet covering her face trying to deflect her approaching mother's bosom, and then a credit card commercial panorama of the knobby-kneed pre-teen Forth against the rolling New Zealand landscape—and settles into the mundane chapter-and-book processional as it continues. Janet goes through her early childhood as an outcast at school. She's from a poor family, has poor hygiene (later in her teens, she let her teeth rot brown), and when she offers her entire class chewing gum bought with money she stole from her father's woolen pocket, her teacher reveals her thievery to the class who then sneers. To say nothing of the untamable patch of ginger cotton growing from her scalp, which remains a constant in her life as she moves from the university to the asylum to a successful writing career complete with grants to travel to Paris and Spain. Spanning over three decades, Frame is portrayed seamlessly by three different actresses (in order of age: Alexia Keogh, Karen Fergusson, and, playing the adult Frame, Kerry Fox) whose remarkable resemblance to each other extends beyond their appearance and mannerisms. They pass the psychological baton and collectively sculpt a portrait of growth.

Campion's knack for solitary yet paradoxically epic scope nibbles off Laura Jones's bite-sized scene-sketches of loneliness and makes entire meals of them, swallowing cast and location up alike in an effort to centralize the three actresses playing Frame to the point that even the most major supporting characters (her older sister Myrtle in the film's first hour, her American lover in Ibiza in the last) are delegated to the sidelines…which aren't exactly as prodigious as they might be in a film conceived for the silver screen. In fact, with Frame's wild crown of fuzz, the preponderance of close-ups turn the rectangular frame into an hourglass, suggesting (however inadvertently) the time she struggles to remember and catalogue in writing her own memoirs as well as the time she lost in a mental institution, the place where she no doubt lost some of those memories enduring no less than 200 odd electroshock treatments. Campion's film comes up short, however, in never satisfactorily illustrating the importance or character of Frame's writing, which, while lauded for its selflessness, can't survive the director's tightly honed individualist scrutiny without occasionally lapsing into solipsism.


An Angel at My Table: Alone, Naturally  Criterion essay by Amy Taubin


An Angel at My Table (1990) - The Criterion Collection


Angel from the Mirror City: Jane Campion's Janet Frame  Sue Gillett from Senses of Cinema


  Writing in the Margins, Exploring the Borderland in the Work of Janet Frame and Jane Campion, by Anna Ball (University of Manchester) (pdf)


DVD Verdict [Bill Gibron]


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Australia  New Zealand  France  (121 mi)  1993


Time Out


Nineteenth century Scotland: Ada (Hunter) hasn't spoken since she was six. She communicates with hand signs, and doesn't consider herself silent, thanks to the joy she takes in playing her piano. But when she arrives in New Zealand for an arranged marriage, her husband (Neill) insists the piano is too unwieldy to be carried from the beach. So, when Baines (Keitel), a neighbouring settler turned half-Maori, buys it, Ada agrees to give him piano lessons, unaware that he intends eventually to give her the instrument in return for small but illicit sexual favours. Campion's Gothic romance is notable for its performances and Michael Nyman's score. The writer/director offers something more starkly, strangely beautiful than most costume dramas, and the whole film puts a fresh spin on the traditional love story. The characters are stubborn and inward-looking, and it's the refusal to sentimentalise that makes this harsh tale of obsession so moving. Campion never underestimates the power physical obsession exerts over human souls, and, for once, a modern film treats erotic passion honestly.


Jonathan Rosenbaum from 1001 MOVIES YOU MUST SEE BEFORE YOU DIE:


SWEETIE (1989) and AN ANGEL AT MY TABLE (1990) taught us to expect startling as well as beautiful things from Jane Campion, and this assured and provocative third feature offers yet another lush parable about the perils and paradoxes of female self-expression.


Set during the 19th century, this original story by Campion – which evokes at times some of the romantic intensity of Emily Brontë – focuses on a Scottish widow (Holly Hunter) who hasn’t spoken since her childhood, presumably by choice, and whose main form of self-expression is her piano playing.  She arrives with her nine-year old daughter (Anna Paquin) in the New Zealand wilds to enter into an arranged marriage, which gets off to an unhappy start when her husband-to-be (Sam Neill) refuses to transport her piano.  A local white man living with the Maori natives (Harvey Keitel) buys the piano from him and, fascinated and attracted to the mute woman, agrees to “sell” it back to her a key at a time in exchange for lessons – lessons that have ultimately traumatic consequences.


Setting out to be politically correct, erotic, and romantic at the same time, THE PIANO inevitably bites off more than it can possibly chew, but winds up stimulating passionate feelings nonetheless. 

moviediva, for the last word on classic films

Director Jane Campion's model for The Piano was Wuthering Heights, by Emily Bronte. But, one reviewer thought if nonsense poet Edward Lear dreamed of sex, it would have looked like this. Campion aims at a neglected aspect of the Victorian age, its surrealism. What other age was so excessively polite? Bronte had a passionate hatred of polite society and all forms of restraint. The Piano explores the Gothic, that romantic Victorian sensibility that masks passion with fear, mystery and the exotic.
Campion's films center on strong-willed women. Her first feature, Sweetie, is the almost unwatchable story of a family ruled by a self-destructive sister. Angel at my Table is a biography of author Janet Frame, wrongly committed to a mental institution. After The Piano, she directed the adaption of Portrait of a Lady, starring Nicole Kidman. The Piano is about control, not sex... pure will, not flirtatiousness; Ada is no passive doll. She identifies her needs and goes about satisfying them. Holly Hunter plays her without vanity: no dialogue, no make-up and greasy hair.Hunter saw the script and had to have it. Campion had envisioned Ada as tall, as an extraordinary beauty, but Hunter had one enormous advantage: she can really play the piano.
Composer Michael Nyman hesitantly met with her to see how well she could play, and then, relieved, was able to go ahead and write whatever music he wanted to write, confident she could realize it. He felt it had to be "possible" mid-19th century music, written by an amateur composer who had lived in Scotland and then New Zealand in the mid 1850s. He used Scottish folk and popular songs as the basis for the music, something that she had in her head and in her fingers. He felt there had to be a kind of modesty to it, although Holly Hunter played Ada playing the piano with enormous dedication and intensity.
Holly Hunter won an Oscar for best actress and young Anna Paquin's complex portrayal of Flora won for Best Supporting Actress. Jane Campion won for Best Original Screenplay. The film also won the grand prize at Cannes, and Hunter for Best Actress. The photography is by Stuart Dryburgh. His dramatic points of view, and the cool grey sweep of landscape contrasting with the warmth of the interiors contributes to the unforgettable look of the film.
Ada's music is filled with repressed longing. It is a siren song: her husband is deaf, but a more elemental man answers...Heathcliff, or Caliban?


Austin Chronicle (Marjorie Baumgarten)

If Madame Bovary were ever to find a Room of her Own, the result might be something like The Piano. But, then again, probably not, since The Piano is a wholly original achievement. Writer-director Jane Campion (Sweetie, An Angel at My Table) has once again created an indelible screen portrait of a woman skirting the fringes of the social norms. The movie is both spare and severe, lush and sensuous, and it is not an easy movie to describe. Otherwise we could just say it's a story about a mute, 19th century woman, Ada (Hunter), whose pre-arranged marriage to a man she's never met brings her to New Zealand, along with her young daughter and her beloved piano. When her new husband, Stewart (Neill), meets her the day after her arrival he insists that the piano remain on the beach since it is too difficult to carry over the rough and muddy terrain. Their marriage is off to a bad start. In time, she manages to convince her husband's right-hand man Baines (Keitel), a mysteriuous white man with Maori face markings, to retrieve her piano. In return he wants lessons, one for every piano key. She bargains him down to one lesson for every black key. But it's not lessons he's really after. Moved by her music and fascinated by her devotion, he simply wants to “do things” while she plays. And from there grows an erotic attraction and passionate hunger that surprises them both. More to the point, however, is that which is left unsaid in The Piano. Much of the movie is shrouded in mystery or left to conjecture. Why did Ada suddenly stop speaking when she was six years old, despite the fact that she can hear perfectly? Who is the father of her daughter? How does the sign language through which she and her daughter communicate when they want to shut out the rest of the world serve as one additional meta-language? How does the piano serve as a transference of her self-expression? How does her severe self-presentation (perfectly representative of the time, though) jibe with her uncontrollable passion? What passes through her husband's mind as she rebuffs him, only later to learn of her deceit? And Baines, what provokes his sudden need for intimacy? The questions go on and on and that's what makes The Piano such a haunting pleasure. There are also the performances; Keitel and Hunter deserve every accolade in the business. They are both so revealing and so natural that watching them almost becomes unnerving. The wonder of The Piano is that such an outwardly simple story could emerge into such a complex swirl of lingering memories.

Washington Post [Hal Hinson]

"The Piano," the evocative, powerful, extraordinarily beautiful film from the Australian director Jane Campion, tells the story of a 19th-century Scottish woman who, according to her father's desires, is shipped off to a crude New Zealand settlement to become the wife of a man she's never met.

The woman's name is Ada, and as we learn from her brief narration, she has refused to utter a word since the age of 6, when she simply decided to end her spoken dialogue with the outside world. Ada (brought spectacularly to life by Holly Hunter) informs us of this through her "inner voice," which we hear only twice -- at the very beginning of the film and at the very end. Other than that, she utters not a sound, not even in the most extreme, most violent circumstances.

Yet Ada doesn't think of herself as mute. Softly caressing the keys, she tells us that her piano is her voice. With the exception of her young daughter, Flora (Anna Pacquin), Ada treasures her piano above everything. Nothing else seems to matter much, not her isolation in this remote, half-civilized outpost, or the drenching rains, or the scary unfamiliarity of the native Maori who live at her doorstep. Sitting rigidly before her instrument, Ada seems to enter into a deep, blissful communion with her music as it flows from her fingertips with the virtuosity of a songbird. More than a mere release or a diversion, the piano is her sustenance, her life.

Given these conditions, it's obvious that Ada cannot bear to be separated from her precious instrument. But after she and her daughter arrive at their new home, her new husband, Stewart (Sam Neill), decides that the piano is too heavy to be carried inland and has to be left on the beach. At this point Stewart, befuddled by his grim-faced, silent bride, has no idea what the piano means to her, and he trades it to a menacing colonist named Baines (Harvey Keitel) for a parcel of land.

But Baines doesn't want just the piano. Before hauling the instrument up from the beach to his quarters, he makes one further demand: He wants lessons too. For Ada, the arrangement is by no means perfect. With his forehead and nose decorated with tattoos, Baines is a fearsome-looking man, but because she cannot refuse and still have access to her piano, she agrees. Shortly after their sessions begin, though, Baines offers Ada a separate deal. While she is playing, if she will allow him, in his words, "to do things," she can earn back her piano at a rate of one key per visit. One black key per visit, Ada signs in response, and the contract is made.

Once the lessons begin, Campion shifts gears and plunges headlong into the eroticism that up to this point has remained submerged. For Ada the piano is clearly something more than a spiritual or creative outlet. When she touches the keys, she does so with the delicacy of a lover. Her passionate, cascading improvisations at the keyboard are filled with sex and repressed longing and all the other unexpressed emotions that her fragile body cannot convey. Ada's playing is a siren's song, and though her husband appears deaf to its call, Baines, the more natural, elemental creature, responds immediately.

Though Campion approaches the issue of sex through this musical metaphor, she doesn't allow the material to become dry and over-intellectualized. As a result, the scenes between Hunter and Keitel are as sexually charged as any in recent memory. While Ada plays, Baines circles behind her and kisses her neck, or sits on the floor at her feet, asking her to lift up her shirt as she plays. It's a courtship unlike any I've ever seen before, and yet these odd afternoon encounters don't seem prurient or dysfunctional, even when Baines strips off his clothes and wanders nude around the piano as Ada plays.

The erotic tension that Campion brings to these scenes is nearly excruciating. Every detail -- even the mere contrast between Keitel's thick, Minotaur physique and Hunter's swanlike delicacy -- seems to carry a palpable threat of violence. And when the tension finally erupts, it is devastating.

"The Piano" is a moody, atmospheric film that, like Campion's other work, conveys as much through suggestion and implication as by direct statement. The performances, too, are exceptionally rich and detailed. Yet on some deeper level they remain mysterious, as if Campion had insisted that the characters remain half-hidden in shadow. This is especially true of Hunter, who without a single line of spoken dialogue manages to give the most moving performance of her career as well as one of the best of the year.

As Hunter and Campion present her, Ada is a distillation of pure Gothic romanticism. With her chalk-white face and pained eyes, she brings to mind the haunted women in the novels of the Bronte sisters, or the bleak heroine in Jane Austen's "Mansfield Park." She suffers, but the source of her pain is mysterious and undiagnosed.

Judging from Campion's previous films, her primary affliction is femininity itself. In "Sweetie" (1989), "An Angel at My Table" (1990) and now "The Piano," her women are haunted creatures at the mercy of their emotions. Their blood runs with sadness, and it is out of this sexual despair that Campion forges her melancholy poetry. "The Piano" is dark, sublime music, and after it's over, you won't be able to get it out of your head.

Jane Campion  THE PIANO website article based on a Campion interview by Helen Barlow, or here:  A Jane Campion Page


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Dragan Antulov


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Edward Copeland on Film


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Movie House Commentary  hold the applause, from Tuna


Essay by bell hooks,  Sexism and Misogyny: Who Takes the Rap? Misogyny, Gangsta Rap and The Piano, from Race and Ethnicity, March 9, 1994


Piano, The Movie  a film website


Images for The Piano


Washington Post [Desson Howe]


Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times


The New York Times (Vincent Canby) [Gary W. Tooze]



Great Britain  USA  (142 mi)  1996  ‘Scope


Philadelphia City Paper (Cindy Fuchs)

In Jane Campion's Portrait of a Lady, Isabel Archer (Nicole Kidman), upon coming into a sizable inheritance from her uncle, Mr. Touchett (John Gielgud), finds herself surrounded by men seeking to possess her. But she is, as her aunt (ShelleyWinters) observes, "too fond of [her] own ways," willful and eager to test her limits. Serena Merle (an excellent performance by Barbara Hershey) moves Isabel profoundly by her piano-playing (Schubert), sadness and elegance. And even though the thrust of the narrative is to set up Isabel with Serena's weasely dilettante of a friend, Gilbert Osmond (John Malkovich), the deeper, lasting connection is between the women (and hence, the deeper betrayal lies in this relationship as well). Ironically, the film's obvious indictments of a cruelly elitist culture based on costumes and possessions, and of Gilbert, the supremely abusive husband, are less significant than its investigation of the women's relationship. Their mutual understanding — more strained than tender — is based on silence and willful blindness: in the end, Isabel and Serena have very few choices, despite their energy and passion for life.

Time Out


Henry James' masterpiece has long been deemed impossible to translate successfully into film; Jane Campion and screenwriter Laura Jones have, however, produced an adaptation as cinematically intelligent as it is faithful to the original. Beginning, adventurously but wisely, with Isabel Archer (Kidman) rejecting Lord Warburton's proposal of marriage, the film charts the changes in its young American heroine's fortunes when, after inheriting a fortune put her way by ailing English cousin Ralph Touchett (Donovan), she travels to Italy, where she's introduced by her mentor Madame Merle (Hershey) to widowed aesthete Gilbert Osmond (Malkovich). Though a friend advises her to wed a long-time admirer who's followed her from America, and Ralph would prefer her to remain true to her free-spirited ideals, Isabel is tempted by Osmond's courtship. Besides the uniformly fine performances, what makes the film so rewarding - and challenging - is its refusal to soften or sentimentalise James' study of New World innocence unprotected against Old World experience. With Stuart Dryburgh's stunning 'Scope camerawork, and a number of audaciously imaginative sequences (notably Isabel's erotic fantasy, and a Dali-esque, b/w 'silent' short to evoke her Grand Tour), this is as far from heritage flummery as you can get.


Mike D'Angelo

I'm treading dangerous ground here: in the circles in which I travel, admitting that you prefer the populist literary adaptations of Merchant/Ivory to an austere, moody, Artistic-with-a-capital-"A" film like Jane Campion's version of Henry James' novel The Portrait of a Lady is tantamount to treason, if not heresy. I'm willing, however, to risk the righteous indignation of cinéastes everywhere by confessing that I had to struggle to stay awake while watching Isabel Archer (Nicole Kidman), James' misguided heroine, stumble into the loveless, degrading web spun by evil aesthete Gilbert Osmond (John Malkovich). James Ivory and Ismael Merchant (who have filmed two James adaptations -- neither of which I've seen -- and are reportedly currently working on a third) would undoubtedly have simplified and trivialized the source material, but they would also have found and preserved its pulse, skillfully or no; Campion, on the other hand, opted to chloroform the book and mount it on celluloid, so that the only possible response is a detached, mournful, "My, how beautiful." Soporifically paced and virtually opaque, The Portrait of a Lady comes to life only when Campion attempts to throw off the literary shackles imposed by James' novel (her interest in which seems entirely sociopolitical, judging by how little attention she and screenwriter Laura Jones pay to the characters' interior lives), as in a nifty black-and-white experimental film that anachronistically chronicles her whirlwind tour of the Mediterranean, two decades before Edison and/or the Lumière brothers invented the medium. The rest of the film, unfortunately, is a colossal bore, consisting almost entirely of conversations in monotone (the acclaim and awards allotted to Martin Donovan and Barbara Hershey, both of whom are merely adequate, baffles me; Hershey, in particular, seems to be doing little more than an impressive Genevieve Bujold impression) between people about whom we know virtually nothing and about whom I consequently cared little. Yes, it's a more ambitious approach than one usually sees with regard to film adaptations of great novels, but I'll take any five minutes of Anthony Hopkins' "conventional" performance in The Remains of the Day over this entire tedious specimen. Memo to Ms. Campion and Ms. Jones (An Angel at My Table): Please leave the lit films to people who can't write. You can.

Austin Chronicle (Marjorie Baumgarten)

Great and evident artistry shapes this film version of the Henry James novel The Portrait of a Lady. Yet the end result perplexes as much as it fascinates. Jane Campion, the much-lauded director of The Piano, and screenwriter Laura Jones (An Angel at My Table) bring their modern sensibilities to bear on this story of James’ 1870s heroine Isabel Archer, a young, sharp-minded, American woman abroad who inherits unexpected wealth and uses it to live as she likes, traveling and rejecting numerous suitors until she falls into an unwise marriage that nearly becomes her ruination. From the opening credits, Campion signals her intention to recontextualize this classic novel for modern times and feminist analysis. The sound and images behind the credits are those of contemporary young women talking of their feelings about love and first kisses. The movie then opens in apparent mid-scene with Isabel (Kidman) rejecting her first suitor, even though he offers her a choice of castles to live in. Campion and Jones add a psychosexual fervor to the story and include several Freudian fantasy sequences as Isabel makes her way through the world as a single woman. Yet, the movie only seems interested in this phase of Isabel’s life as a preliminary background to her unhappy marriage. Her broadening travels are depicted simply (and frugally) as a picture-postcard diorama. The movie focuses primarily on Isabel’s attraction to and near-undoing by the manipulative esthete Gilbert Osmond (Malkovich). Prior to this, we see too little of the searing intelligence that has earned Isabel so many admirers and, likewise, we also see too little of the internal fire that lures Isabel to the viperous Osmond. In a movie marked by outstanding performances, Malkovich is the one weak link. We’ve seen him vamp through these coyly sinister roles a few too many times, and his Osmond comes off like a creature left over from Dangerous Liaisons. Kidman does what she can to bring the movie’s opaque Isabel to life (though I seriously doubt the role will win her the Oscar that, rightly, should have been hers last year for her delicious work in To Die For). As her sickly cousin and biggest admirer, Hal Hartley regular Martin Donovan makes a strong impression, as do John Gielgud (especially in a memorable death scene) and Barbara Hershey. No small contribution to the film’s overall impact is made by the wonderfully rich and atmospheric work of cinematographer Stuart Dryburgh (Lone Star, Once Were Warriors, The Piano). Toward the end of The Portrait of a Lady, sequences and events have a hurried feel that not only contrasts sharply with the steady tone that preceded it but also packs too much subtle information into too little space. However, for all its misfirings The Portrait of a Lady paints a fascinating picture.

Linda Lopez McAlister (c/o inforM Women's Studies)
The Lady in the Frame: Two Portraits by Henry James and Jane Campion  David Kelly from Senses of Cinema


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HOLY SMOKE                                             B                     88

USA  Australia  (114 mi)  1999


Women Directors Special: Soul Survivor  Kate Pullinger from Sight and Sound (excerpt)

Maybe it's just a coincidence, but some of the most audacious, controversial and imaginative films to premiere this year were directed by women. In this issue's special focus we highlight three of the best: Jane Campion's Holy Smoke, Catherine Breillat's Romance and newcomer Lynne Ramsay's Ratcatcher. Here, Kate Pullinger applauds as Campion loosens her period-dress stays and returns to present-day Australia to cast Kate Winslet and Harvey Keitel in a war of wits, offering a rich meditation on belief, desire and novel uses for livestock

Time Out


Far from her suburban Sydney home, backpacker Ruth Barron (Winslet) is so touched by an Indian guru that even mum turning up with tales of dad's imminent demise can't lure her back. Ironically, mum's own asthmatic reaction to Delhi leads to Ruth escorting her to Oz, where awaits wizard 'cult exiter' PJ Waters (Keitel), hired by the family to rid Ruth of her plans to become one of her mentor's wives. His three-step process takes place in a cabin in the desert, a suitably scorched, remote arena for a blazing battle of wills that takes them beyond conventional power struggles into a heady realm of love, hate, doubt and desire. With its switches in tone, from searing psycho-drama to broad, exuberant comedy, its sometimes purposeful, sometimes meandering narrative and its bright hues, the film initially seems an efficient if uneven entertainment. As it progresses, however, with Ruth and PJ moving into ever murkier territory, it becomes easier to discern a thematic thread: how we're all conditioned, and how we must interrogate traditional assumptions to discover our real selves. It's brave, adventurous, refreshingly frank - qualities also marking the performances, particularly those of the leads.


Philadelphia City Paper review by Sam Adams


Departing from her usually airless, overdetermined style, Jane Campion takes Holy Smoke into looser, more organic territory, at least until its disastrous final third. Kate Winslet plays Ruth, a headstrong Australian woman who’s convinced she’s found spiritual enlightenment in an Indian religious sect, only to have her parents trick her into coming home to be deprogrammed by unctuous, oily American "cult exiter" PJ (Harvey Keitel). When Campion (who co-wrote the script with sister Anna, based on the latter’s novel) keeps the focus wide, including Ruth’s deliberately vulgar family (caricatured in typically bigfoot Australian style), Holy Smoke ably balances boisterous humor with a more serious understanding of why Ruth decamped in the first place. (Yvonne Lee is particularly good as an innocently blowsy woman obsessed with bedding Keitel’s sleazeball.) The shot of a sari-clad Ruth belting out Alanis Morissette’s "You Oughta Know" as her car races across the outback is priceless: both expressive and perfectly ironic. But once Keitel and Winslet are cooped up in the "halfway hut" and the deprogramming begins, the movie turns self-serious and implodes almost immediately, instantly reverting to the fumble-fisted symbolism Campion is so fond of indulging. Once Keitel’s in a dress and Winslet has "Be Kind" written on her forehead, the movie has nothing left to do but pummel you with lines that are alternately obvious and opaque, and any prospect of enlightenment has long since passed.


The Onion A.V. Club [Scott Tobias]

Set to the full-throated, anthemic bombast of Neil Diamond's "Holly, Holy" (the live version), the delirious opening minutes of Jane Campion's Holy Smoke echo the singer's combustible mix of spirituality and kitsch, viewing a young woman's enlightenment as a sort of exotic pop adventure. Campion makes it easy to see how Kate Winslet, wonderful as an impetuous yet headstrong teenager, could fall for the Fruitopian vision of "absolute love" offered by an Indian guru named Baba. But the moment the song ends and her asthmatic mother wheezes through the Delhi streets, the film's peculiar spell is broken, its story splitting into two irreconcilable halves: one a fierce psychosexual melodrama similar to Campion's The Piano, the other a typically grotesque Australian comedy. Buried under all the clutter is a pointed theme about how society works to eradicate any unconventional belief system, no matter how much spiritual bliss it has to offer. Once Winslet makes the transition from rebellious and melancholic to peaceful and meditative, her parents are so alarmed that they force her back to Sydney and hire American "cult exiter" Harvey Keitel to snap her out of it. Their three-day deprogramming sessions, in the cramped space of an outback hut, are by far the most compelling material in Holy Smoke, as each angles for psychological advantage. Though the result of their tête-à-tête is predictable, especially for those familiar with Campion's torrid feminism, Winslet and Keitel attack and recede with almost primal intensity. But their palpable chemistry is continually undercut by her cartoonish extended family, whose flying toupees and distended bodies are meant to represent sickly, unnatural suburban life. It's a cheap point, made more effectively in fellow Aussie Nicolas Roeg's 1971 Walkabout, which deftly balanced natural beauty against the pollutants of urban life. For all its attractions, Holy Smoke is a tonal mess, too incoherent to get back in sync with Diamond's majestically trashy epiphanies.

Jigsaw Lounge (Neil Young)

Holy Smoke is typical Jane Campion - as with The Piano and Portrait of a Lady, there are plenty of ideas here, many of them remarkably good, many remarkably bad. Stitched together to form a feature film, the results are maddeningly uneven, but always worth seeing. Perhaps the problem is length - it may be no coincidence that Campion's most satisfying work to date remains her 1984 short, Passionless Moments.

The best thing about Holy Smoke is probably Kate Winslet. She works wonders with the central role of Ruth, who undergoes a spiritual transformation during a trip to India. Her family back home in Australia fear the worst and trick her into returning, whereupon she is made to undergo 'deprogramming' from a hired American expert, Harvey Keitel.

For most of its length, Holy Smoke is original, witty, skilfully made and extremely well acted. In the final 20 minutes or so, however, things go careering out of control as the claustrophobic battle of wills between Winslet and Keitel heads into bizarre psychological territories which Campion doesn't seem to have fully thought through. Compared with what has gone before, the final scenes simply fail to convince, and the film feels in dire need of at least one rewrite. It doesn't know what it wants to be, and the scenes concentrating on Winslet's boorish Aussie family, though marvellously entertaining, seem to have been spliced in from another movie altogether.

Campion seems determined to go her own way - but the danger is that she doesn't appear willing to learn from her past mistakes. It's impossible to fault the acting (though Pam Grier has zero to do in a curiously minor role) and Campion stages many scenes with terrific visual verve, but Holy Smoke provides proof, once again, that a half-baked script is always an impossible hurdle to overcome.

Linda Lopez McAlister (c/o inforM Women's Studies)

There's reason for joy among feminists this morning, at least in the top film market citties such as Philadelphia where I am visiting at the moment. What is it? A new Jane Campion film has just opened. It's called " Holy Smoke" and you'll want to put it on your "must see" list when it comes to a theater near you. It is vintage Jane Camption. She has been, among other things, skewering the middle class Australian family since she was a kid (see "A Girl's Own Story" made when she was fifteen). The family in this film who live in a vast look-alike housing development called, with dripping irony, San Souci (the name of Frederick the Great's glorious palace outside Berlin). They could be the nextdoor neighbors to the dysfunctional family Campion created in her earlier film "Sweetie." Next to her siblings, Ruth (Kate Winslet) seems the most sane and reasonable of the lot. She and her sisters go off on a trip to India where Ruth falls under the spell of a holy man, experiences enlightenment, joins the ashram and burns her return ticket home.

When her family finds out, they're worried sick and her mother goes to India armed with lies about her father dying and then freaks out, forcing Ruth to accompany her on a hospital plane back to Sydney. Once she's there, the deprogrammer they have brought from America at great expense, P J Waters (Harvey Keitel), takes over, promising to return her to her family at the end of three days minus her dedication to the cult that has, in their eyes, captured her.

What happens out in "the half way hut" in the shadow of Ayres Rock is unlike anything you've ever seen at the movies before. It's sort of the Main Event in the battle of the sexes, with P J using his physical power, his tried and true deprogramming techniques, and his macho arrogance as his tools and Ruth using her faith, her knowledge that she has had a transforming spiritual experience, and her sexuality as hers. While he's trying to break her, she is slowly turning up the heat on him and eventually he can't control his desire for her. From there on in, she has him where she wants him. In a scene that women who believe that they should be in control of their own sexuality will marvel at, Ruth teaches P J how to make love to her on her terms, not his. Then, in a sequence that's reminiscent of the way Marlene Dietrich cruelly taunted and humiliated Emil Jannings in "The Blue Angel," Ruth puts lipstick and a dress on P J, and has sex with him her way for a change. She's gleeful because she has won the battle of wills, at least she thinks she has.

There's more, including a brief appearance by Pam Grier as Carol, P J's girlfriend from America but that's enough plot, find out yourself how it ends. Beware of young (and not so young) male reviewers writing about this film. They really get upset by it and some totally lose their sense of proportion about it and react hysterically (and I use that word advisedly). It's really the ultimate example of McAlister's Law; in this case it's not just getting kicked in the groin that makes them uncomfortable, it's a woman in controlling the sexual agenda, "emasculating" and humiliating the man and it's a real turn off for a lot of men (see, for example, the comments page on But women viewers will understand that the deprogramming is going both ways here and Ruth may actually be doing P J a big favor. The epilogue shows that he is a changed man because something happened to him that night. Call it enlightenment if you will.

Holy Smoke   Stella Bruzzi from Sight and Sound
Never a Native: Holy Smoke  Sue Gillett from Senses of Cinema
village voice > film > Jane and Anna Campion Make a Religious-Cult ...  Fear and Desires, by Amy Taubin from The Village Voice
Village Voice (J. Hoberman) [Mary Elizabeth Williams]


Nitrate Online (Sean Axmaker)


City Pages, Minneapolis/St. Paul   Kate Sullivan


The Nation (Stuart Klawans)


New York Observer (Andrew Sarris)


PopMatters  F.L. Carr


eFilmCritic  Jack Sommersby


World Socialist Web Site  Jason Nichols and David Walsh


AboutFilm  Alison Tweedie-Perry


Scott Renshaw   Richard James Havis


Raging Bull [Dan McGowan]


James Berardinelli's ReelViews


City Pages, Minneapolis/St. Paul   Rob Nelson


Chris Dashiell at CineScene (down the page)


Movie House Commentary  Johnny Web and Tuna


Film Journal International (David Noh) (Greg Muskewitz)


Q Network Film Desk (James Kendrick)


Filmtracks (Christian Clemmensen)   soundtrack review


7:30 Report  interview with the participants by Maxine Mckew December 13, 1999


Wholly Jane: Jane Campion on her new movie and other mysteries  Judith Lewis interview from LA Weekly, January 18, 2000


Austin Chronicle [Marc Savlov]


The Boston Phoenix   Peter Keough


Los Angeles Times (Kevin Thomas)


Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times


The New York Times (Janet Maslin)


IN THE CUT                                                             A                     95

USA  Australia  Great Britain  (120 mi)  2003


Sumptuously photographed by Dion Beebe, filmed 100 % in New York City, this film has an incredibly sensuous and seamy style to it.  Sex and violence are beautifully brought together here in a steamy erotic thriller where Jane Campion integrates the urban underbelly of Scorsese’s Taxi Driver (1976) with the growing female paranoia from Hitchcock’s Suspicion (1941).  Since becoming the first and only woman to win the Palme D’Or at Cannes for THE PIANO (1993), a lush study of repression, Campion has garnered a reputation for making ardently feminist films featuring a powerful and courageous woman as a central figure.  But that doesn’t suggest her films are easy to digest, as evidenced by the virile review of the film by New York film critic Armond White Porn Theater and In the Cut | - New York's essential ..., “Feminism has garnered more favor in the mainstream media than has gay rights. This has nothing to do with correct thinking or sensitivity.  As Jane Campion’s movies demonstrate, it is the result of privileged insensitivity,” calling the filmmaker a “con-artist” whose film is “the latest example of the way she uses sexual paranoia to appeal to the weak-minded sympathies of feminist critics and audiences.”  Lest we remember White also called Iranian filmmaker Abbas Kiarostami a “backward third-world esthete.”  Part of the resentment seems to derive from women freely adapting noir urban thrillers, territory that has previously been considered an exclusive male domain.  Campion’s interest within the genre is redefining the women’s role, taking that same exploitive melodramatic female hysteria of women caught up in trouble, but exploring the fractured, internalized world from a different perspective.  All she’s really doing is balancing the playing field, turning the story on edge using instead a female protagonist.  The film is an adaptation of the 2003 novel by Susanna Moore, an erotic mystery thriller starring Meg Ryan, who made a career in the late 80’s and 90’s making homogenized mainstream American comedies.  Campion originally worked for five years developing the film with Nicole Kidman (who remained a producer), but she got caught up in a messy and heavily publicized divorce with über megastar actor Tom Cruise. 


Given that the film’s aesthetic is saturated in a dreamlike, impressionistic allure of color, the realistic aspect of the story may seem a bit improbable, where the now fortyish Meg Ryan is Frannie, a New York high school teacher and amateur linguist with an interest in the origins of slang, who continuously allows herself to be put in harm's way, almost as if she was hypnotized.  However, this adds sensuality to the developing suspense, where every male in her mind becomes increasingly suspect as she nearly sleepwalks through this role, such is the dreamlike quality of her performance, while her sister Pauline, stunningly played by Jennifer Jason Leigh, gives one of her best performances as well.  Both are world weary, affectionately close, neither passing judgment on the others life.  The love between the two is overwhelming, as is their incredible need for love and intimacy.  It's that feeling, the need to be needed, that dominates this film, as the two sisters appear to be sadly out of kilter with the world around them, as if it has somehow passed them by and they are settling for the leftovers.  Opening strangely with the oddly hypnotic Que Sera Sera -- Pink Martini - YouTube (3:01) as petals fall over the Manhattan skyline, we’re already somehow part of a young girl’s fantasy, where the film revolves around Frannie’s sexual awakening, seen early on witnessing a cop getting a blowjob in the darkened back regions of a seedy bar, where the girl seen ends up murdered, where a piece of her “disarticulated” corpse is discovered near Frannie’s apartment.  Frannie is portrayed as a vaguely dissatisfied woman, divorced with few friends, where she’s drawn into the misogynistic, macho world of the police detective investigating the murder, Mark Ruffalo as Detective Malloy, where it makes no sense why Frannie would be attracted to this type of vulgar-mouthed police detective, but attracted she is, and who says desire has to make sense?  Her sister Pauline evidently wrote the book on the subject, encouraging her to finally connect with someone.


Some of the more genuinely affecting scenes in the film come between the detective and his partner, Detective Rodriguez (Nick Damici), where the combative language and police jargon perfectly captures the street oriented racism that is etched into their equally sexist dialogue, where both of these guys exhibit a crudeness exclusively associated with the behavior of hardened cops.  Frannie grows both attracted and repulsed by Malloy’s boorish sexual aggressiveness, exploring the ambivalent feelings of female desire and passion, where her discovery of sexual pleasure is expressed with an emphasis almost exclusively on the woman’s enjoyment.  But this is quickly tempered with her growing suspicions that Malloy may be the murderer, as he has the same distinctive tattoo on his wrist that she observed on the cop last seen with the murder victim, where now there are others killed in the exact same manner, meaning there is a vicious serial killer on the loose.  Campion creates an intoxicatingly sensuous atmosphere steeped in sexual paranoia and violence, where every male figure suddenly becomes suspect, including her stalker-like, brain-fried former lover John, creepily played by uncredited Kevin Bacon, and a particularly interested black student Cornelius (Sharrieff Pugh), the source of much of her information on slang who also makes a play for her.  These competing interests are contrasted against a highly developed internalized portrait of a women continually beaten down by the wretched horrors of the world outside, where Frannie has every reason to be petrified with fear, as the killer appears to be closing in.  Using a rich and expressive visual language, including a highly personalized film within a film, the story unfolds from Frannie’s perspective, growing ever more blurry and indefinable around the edges of the frame, matching her deteriorating mental outlook.  Meg Ryan succeeds brilliantly here in a more mature and multi-dimensional role, including full frontal nudity, breaking free from her stereotypical adorable parts that defined her career.  Claustrophobic, dark and noirish atmospheric, this is an exquisitely constructed impressionistic mood piece that somehow offers its own peculiar elegy to the mournful souls currently trying to reconstruct their lives in a post 9/11 world weary New York City.   


Time Out

Laurie Anderson put it neatly: 'I hate my dreams,' she said. 'They're so infantile.' Campion's film is being sold as an erotic thriller, but the director evidently approached it as a fantasy. Ryan (no longer cute, and more interesting for it) is Frannie, an English teacher at NYU, caught up in a murder case when a 'disarticulated' corpse shows up on her doorstep. Frannie watched the girl giving head to a guy just the day before, a guy with an uncanny resemblance to homicide cop Molloy. Campion and Susanna Moore have sliced and diced the latter's novel, chopping and doubling characters with schizoid abandon. Every male is suspect. As for Molloy, Ruffalo gives him colour and shading; it's not the actor's fault if the character makes no sense. There's a much better film going on at the same time. Frannie's frank, funny relationship with her half-sister Pauline (Leigh) is credible and touching; so too, for that matter, is the fearful desire that pulses through Fran's erotic relationship with Molloy. The film's strong on its blurry, jittery New York rhythms, and the rich, febrile atmospherics are laced with poetry and secret talismans. There's texture and subtext to spare, but when it comes to text, Campion's disinterest in genre is palpable.

Richard Porton from Cinema Scope, posted 09-13-2003 (link lost):

Jane Campion’s early shorts and features, notably Sweetie (1989) and An Angel at my Table (1990), were distinguished by a remarkable visual and narrative dexterity. Although her subsequent films have often seemed strained and schematic in comparison (her breakout hit, 1993’s The Piano is the most egregious example), they all combine a fiercely personal style with an undogmatic feminist sensibility. Some of Campion’s champions are inordinately dogmatic, however, and it is both amusing and disconcerting to observe how her work is frequently celebrated with a blend of misplaced reverence and academic cant. In his BFI monograph on Campion, Dana Polan recounts a conversation with a professor friend who “declared virulently that it was impossible and even malicious to imagine Jane Campion making a film” of Susanna Moore’s novel In the Cut. Polan’s academic confidante views Moore’s heroine as something less than an exemplary independent woman, a curious objection given that Campion’s own female protagonists, who often fuse strength and vulnerability, are much too complex to be reduced to that stale cliché, “the strong woman.”

Unfortunately, Campion’s adaptation of In the Cut proves distressingly tame and, in the final analysis, is probably innocuous enough to please Polan’s censorious friend. (Since this “erotic thriller” opens with “Que Sera Sera” on the soundtrack, it becomes clear early on that subtlety will be in short supply.) Although the film version (co-written by Moore and Campion) almost slavishly reproduces the novel’s account of a hesitant sexual adventurer, other filmmakers – Catherine Breillat comes immediately to mind – have explored this terrain with less prevarication.

A whodunit with literary pretensions, the film revolves around the sexual awakening of Franny (Meg Ryan), a demure English professor. Once our heroine wanders into a New York City bar with a student and unwittingly observes a woman performing oral sex on a man she later encounters under much different circumstances, her life changes irrevocably. The man in question turns out to be Detective Malloy (Mark Ruffalo), a macho New York police investigator who Franny finds simultaneously attractive and repellent. A string of plot contrivances lead to one overriding, yawn-inducing paradox: Franny’s sexual epiphany is inextricably tied to her affair with a man who may be either her redeemer or her potential murderer. Despite the au courant subject matter, Moore and Campion’s resolution of the mystery (suffice to say that Malloy is cleared of all culpability) is almost affirmative enough to fit into the middle-class, faux-feminist agenda of the Lifetime Channel.

Working for the first time in what might be termed genre territory, Campion does her best to imbue In the Cut with a noirish ambiance. She opts for an intriguingly brackish colour scheme, perilously low light levels, and jagged camera movements. In the end, these flourishes (the film benefits enormously from the contributions of the talented cinematographer Dion Beebe) are all more or less perfunctory – as are Campion’s attempts to give the thin material some psychological ballast by inserting flashbacks in which Franny’s emotional paralysis is traced to her mother’s decision to marry an unfaithful man. The locations are disappointingly lackluster as well, although New Yorkers might notice one odd bit of local colour – Franny’s sister, Pauline (Jennifer Jason Leigh), lives above an actual strip club, the Baby Doll Lounge.

Many will assume that the film’s doom was sealed with the casting of Meg Ryan in the part of Franny, a role originally designed for Nicole Kidman. But Ryan gamely assumes the glum demeanor required of her, and it would be unfair to blame her for the film’s anemia. Leigh plays her sister, an entirely superfluous role, as an almost Eve Arden-ish sidekick. Since she portrays this underdeveloped character with such panache, it seems preternaturally cruel to kill her off as the plot reaches its creaky crescendo.

In addition, the film’s by-the-numbers sex scenes are sadly lacking in brio. I couldn’t help but think of Vladimir Nabokov’s withering comments on the wan sexual escapades in Tony Richardson’s adaptation of his Laughter in the Dark (1969): “the blotchy male shoulder, the false howls of bliss, the four or five mingled feet…all of it primitive, commonplace, conventional.” Even the admittedly risible sexual hijinks between Harvey Keitel and Kate Winslet in Holy Smoke (1999) possessed more erotic spark than Ryan and Ruffalo’s passionless writhings.

When a film by a director of unquestionable talent misfires, it seems presumptuous, but unavoidable, to speculate on her intentions. Instead of the cheekily subversive project Campion presumably had in mind, she ended up making a retooled version of a cautionary tale – an odd mixture of a Nancy Drew mystery and Looking for Mr. Goodbar (1977).

Cinepassion  Fernando F. Croce

The word around the block on Jane Campion's latest, In the Cut, has been dire. Even before its derisive premiere in Toronto, the buzz was centered squarely on star Meg Ryan's much-ballyhooed switcheroo from winsome America's Sweetheart to freaky-deaky troubled chick, going full frontal and miming ecstasy from a cunningulus session.
It's not surprising to see that the shrillest of negative reviews (calling the movie "tawdry," "an ugly mess," "dirty" and, oh the irony, "sexist") have been by male critics. Their tangible resentment derives undoubtedly from the fact that a woman director is taking a male genre (the urban thriller) and using it to explore a female character's psyche, without toning down the genre's "maleness" (its grim violence, its sense of paranoia). Campion's movie has, thus, been taken as a personal affront by a good deal of (male) critics, who use it as excuse to wonder whether she, a highly respected filmmaker (The Piano), isn't respected among the tastemakers just because... well, because she's a woman. Armond White, the NY Press' bellicosely "passionate" critic, epitomizes this foolishness by calling the film "the latest example of the way she uses sexual paranoia to appeal to the weak-minded sympathies of feminist critics and audiences." (The review, calling the director a "con-artist," comes all-too-obviously from the same sensibility that branded the great Iranian filmmaker Abbas Kiarostami a "backward third-world esthete.")
What is Campion's sin? Basically, to refuse to be defined exclusively in terms of gentility and passivity, terms that our society wants viewers to adopt as signifiers of "femininity." The opening credits -- petals gently falling in the Manhattan skyline as "Que Sera, Sera" plays discordantly -- use clichés of femininity to contrast vividly with the reality of a world where their romanticism has become absurdly debased. Frannie (Ryan) is a glum teacher who divides her time between writing a book on urban slang, snatching bits of poetry off subway placards, and visiting her strung-out half-sister (Jennifer Jason Leigh). When a cop named Malloy (Mark Ruffalo, all insinuating menace and That '70s Porn mustache) enters the picture to investigate the gruesome killings of young women around her area, Frannie finds herself falling into an affair with him. However, her attraction is fused with the fear that he may be the murderer himself.
The plot sounds like your slick, garden-variety serial killer thriller, and that's how the movie is being sold in the trailers. Seen from that angle, In the Cut cannot help but be a failure -- Campion has very little affinity for the streamlined clarity necessary for a Hollywood whodunit, and in that area the film comes off as rhythmless and redundant. Yet I doubt that a better-made version of the same plot (the term "better" here meant to mean "efficiently," in the anonymous and impersonal contemporary Hollywood manner) would have necessarily resulted in a better film. The richness of the movie is tied to its messiness, itself an essential part of Campion's thematic dynamics.
Campion has been a singularly restless talent, blessedly hard to pin down. Crudity and delicacy leak continuously into each other, lush Victorian romances and tragedies (The Piano, Portrait of a Lady) mixed with raucously disrespectful comedies (Sweetie, Holy Smoke!). Her films follow female misfits, or, more precisely, women who are labeled misfits by strict patriarchal societies for their "aberrant" behavior -- consequently, they are waist-deep in "madness," the obvious male explanation of their rebelliousness. Frannie in In the Cut isn't mad, but she is likewise against being frozen into established roles (always bearing down on her, like the huge flower arrangement marked "Mom" early in the subway). Her discovery of sexual pleasure with Malloy (and this is one of the only American movies I can think of where the emphasis in the sex scenes is exclusively on the woman's enjoyment) is tempered with anxiety over the violence that seems to be always intertwined with sex in the urban jungle of Manhattan -- here made as ominously mysterious and narcotizing as the dark jungles of Campion's native New Zealand.
The linking of sex and violence has been seen by some as reactionary, as if the director were saying one leads to the other. Far from it -- sex in Campion's films is almost always seen as liberating and expansive, an extension of natural expression for her heroines. What the picture attacks is not sex but its degradation (strip clubs, dark alley blowjobs) in the dank, urban environment. Its movement is less toward the uncovering of the real killer than toward the timid heroine's taking control of her sexuality, from masturbating to enjoying oral sex to actively, aggressively initiating intercourse. This is an unblushing, even invasively provocative look at a sexual odyssey, which critics are trying to palm off as a failed woman-in-peril shocker. In Kill Bill: Vol. 1, Quentin Tarantino radically challenges the conventions of a masculine cinema by empowering his heroine without sacrificing her femininity; in In the Cut, working with a similarly male genre, Campion navigates her heroine through the waters of female-victim ideology. Both are open to a feminist reading, as well as to misunderstanding by lazy, jaded viewers.

Los Angeles Times [Manohla Dargis]

Jane Campion's astonishingly beautiful new film, "In the Cut," may be the most maddening and imperfect great movie of the year. Certainly it's the most difficult to cozy up to with its unnerving fusion of hot sex, icy sentiment and warm-running blood. The movie is being pitched as an erotic thriller, but despite a suspense subplot and the frisson that comes with watching professional cupcake Meg Ryan do the nasty, it plays far closer to an adults-only fairy tale — albeit one in which the happily-ever looks a lot like "Taxi Driver."

Think of it as the ultimate grim fairy tale: the story of a woman who, while wandering the streets of New York and the tangled wilds of her imagination meets not one but several big bad wolves. Hovering around age 40, Frannie (Ryan), a writing teacher and amateur linguist, lives alone in an apartment ornamented with words fixed to the walls. She's doing a study of contemporary slang and sometimes taps one of her students, Cornelius (Sharrieff Pugh), for the latest in street patois. She evinces a particular interest in sexual and violent colloquialisms, and indeed the film's title, which is taken from Susanna Moore's controversial 1995 novel, turns out to be an especially vulgar descriptor for intercourse.

Cornelius is one wolf on the prowl; a homicide detective named Malloy (Mark Ruffalo) is another. Malloy comes knocking on Frannie's door after an amputated female hand turns up in the teacher's back yard. A serial killer seems to be running amok in the city, chopping women into mincemeat. Neither surprised nor visibly disturbed by this grisly news (you'd think body parts littered her front door), Frannie agrees to meet Malloy for drinks. But put off by his boorish, epithet-spewing partner, Rodriguez (Nick Damici), she flees the date and runs straight into the arms of a would-be mugger. Eluding her attacker gives her an excuse to contact Malloy, ostensibly for some protective pointers. The detective plays along with this fantasy by roughly putting an arm around Frannie's neck and whispering dirty nothings in her ear.

Has Little Red Riding Hood jumped in bed with the wolf? That question drives "In the Cut," giving it a hum of nervous tension, but like all of Campion's features this is a movie that earns its thrills from two people circling each other and casual camera movements that catch moments of startling beauty. The film is filled with surreal, hothouse flourishes that tell the story as vividly and often more eloquently than either the plot mechanics or dialogue. In one scene, Frannie distractedly watches two women playing pool, one in a red dress, the other in green, a visual warning that she doesn't pick up on. Later, after telling the macabre story of her mother and father's courtship, she stands next to a blood-red wreath of flowers adorned with a banner reading "Mom."

At once dreamy and watchful, Frannie has the wounded mien of someone who's endured too many breakups. There's something disappointed about her but something angry, too. When Frannie and her sister, Pauline (Jennifer Jason Leigh), lounge around listening to love songs, the explicitness of their desire comes as a shock because it's so nakedly hurting. "What you need is a baby," Pauline coos, "and a man," echoing the words that reverberate through many women's heads whether they want them to or not. What Frannie really needs is something else, but when she first meets Malloy she looks at him as if he's stinking up the room. For his part, Ruffalo lets us know the cop doesn't care. "Tell me what you want me to be," Malloy tells Frannie, tracing tattoos of longing on her body.

Steeped in sexual paranoia and violence, Moore's novel is a chilly, self-conscious exercise in genre. It's a cheap shot of a book, but Campion has always enjoyed exploring the darker side of sex and power, so it's easy to see what attracted her to Frannie's strange adventure. The director handles the cop stuff effortlessly, nailing the hard precinct vibe and combative banter between Malloy and his partner, but she never satisfyingly integrates the story's thriller elements with the florid drama inside Frannie's noggin. The film mainly unfolds from Frannie's perspective and the images are often blurred around the edges to show just how little of the world she sees. But unlike the wife in Hitchcock's "Suspicion," the classic paranoid-woman movie, Frannie is also right to be scared.

Campion's visual language is richer, more expressive than Moore's prose, and in adapting the book she's appreciably warmed up the novel's characters, in particular Pauline, who looks as lush as overripe fruit and just as easy to bruise. Malloy gives off waves of heat, while Frannie's former lover, wittily played by Kevin Bacon, provides some humorous relief. But because Campion, unlike Moore's book, is fundamentally hopeful about men and women, there's something cockeyed about how the film ties up its loose genre threads. It's nice to see Ryan play a role without the usual ingratiation (there's always been a sour grimace lurking beneath that smile), but despite her best efforts it's difficult to accept where Frannie lands. Most of the film's last 30 minutes veer between the baffling and numbing, but just when you're ready to throw in the towel, Campion delivers a final grace note.

Although Campion isn't as strongly committed to surrealism as David Lynch, the final image of a slowly closing door in this film affirms that she's never been entirely in the grip of realism. A fever dream and a pitch-dark romance, "In the Cut" takes place as much in the realm of myth as on the downtown streets of New York; in each, women are either the heroines of their own stories or its victims. If nothing else, the film takes it on faith that the old storybook routines no longer apply, which helps explain why "Taxi Driver" — with its frenzied masculine violence and febrile vision of the city as a landscape of fear and desire — hangs over this movie so heavily. Once upon a time, Travis Bickle saved the girl, but then she grew up. Who saves her now?

Sex And Self-danger   Graham Fuller from Sight and Sound

Engaging Medusa: Competing Myths and Fairytales in In the Cut   Sue Gillett from Senses of Cinema


If One Person is Strong, Must the Other Be Weak?    Daniel Garrett from Offscreen, December 31, 2003


Sex and Violence as Phantasm: Eros and Thanatos in Campion's In the Cut   Catherine Benoit from Offscreen, April 30, 2006


Making the Cut:  Joy Press from the Village Voice


The Village Voice [J. Hoberman]


Jane Campion's IN THE CUT: Shadows from the Lighthouse  M. Tamminga from A Journal of Film 


Porn Theater and In the Cut | - New York's essential ...  Armond White from NY Press


PopMatters  Cynthia Fuchs


Film Freak Central Review [Walter Chaw]


Nick's Flick Picks (Full Review)  Nick Davis (Tony Pellum)


In the Cut   Leslie Felperin from Sight and Sound


d+kaz . intelligent movie reviews [Daniel Kasman]


In The Cut – Campion’s under-rated exploration of sexuality  Zettel Film Reviews


Jigsaw Lounge [Neil Young] (Jon Danziger)


Combustible Celluloid (Jeffrey M. Anderson)


Christian Science Monitor (David Sterritt)


Mixed Reviews: The Arts, The World, and More (Jill Cozzi)


"In the Cut" - Salon   Stephanie Zacharek


The Onion A.V. Club [Noel Murray]  Rebecca Murray  Angus Wolfe Murray   John Atkinson


Goatdog's Movies [Michael W. Phillips Jr.]


The SF, Horror and Fantasy Film Review  Richard Scheib


Movie House Commentary  Johnny Web


Slant Magazine  Jeremiah Kipp


Nitrate Online (KJ Doughton)


Peter Sobczynski


James Berardinelli's ReelViews


Daniel Fienberg -- Epinions


Lessons of Darkness [Nick Schager] (Rob Gonsalves)


Film Monthly (Hank Yuloff)


DVD Verdict - Uncut Director's Edition  Elizabeth Skipper


Film Journal International (Maria Garcia) [Sarah Chauncey] [MaryAnn Johanson] [Jamie Russell] (Les Phillips)


Movie Vault [Brian Andrews]




Sunday Online, Australia (Peter Thompson)   including brief comments from Campion and the two leads


Washington Post (Ann Hornaday)


Austin Chronicle [Marjorie Baumgarten]


Philadelphia City Paper [Sam Adams]


The Boston Phoenix    Peter Keough


Chicago Tribune [Michael Wilmington]


Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times


The New York Times (A.O. Scott)


Bookslut | In the Cut by Susanna Moore  Gena Anderson book review from Bookslut



Australia  (17 mi)  (2006)

from imdb Author: Mozjoukine ( from Australia:
Involving enough short film made as part of a UN Millennium Development Goals project about water and global warming.

In the Australian outback there is a protracted drought. Two young girls find themselves sharing bath water. The horses ("The only two things that I loved" Englert declares) have to go.

The area's alpha female plans playing violin at dusk when the brother says the skies are most likely to respond with rain from the clouds he studies. The kids have to bring and drink jars of water which contain at least one tear drop - no problem.

Not hard to see Campion in this female world, mixing mysticism with an Australian setting.
Get shorty   Xan Brooks from the Guardian


It's usually first-time directors who make a splash at Cannes with their short films. But now, more established names are getting in on the act. Jane Campion tells Xan Brooks why small is beautiful  

Campion lured back to the lens - Film - Entertainment -  Gary Maddox from The Sydney Morning Herald, October 20, 2005


Acclaimed filmmakers Jane Campion and Gaspar Noe focus on the ...  United Nations Development Program, May 16, 2006


The Cannes Festival: Jane Campion, on drought and isolation ...  Joan Dupont from the International Herald Tribune, May 31, 2006


BRIGHT STAR                                                        A-                    93
Great Britain  Australia  (119 mi)  2009

Bright star, would I were stedfast as thou art —
Not in lone splendour hung aloft the night
And watching, with eternal lids apart,
Like nature’s patient, sleepless Eremite,
The moving waters at their priestlike task
Of pure ablution round earth’s human shores,
Or gazing on the new soft-fallen mask
Of snow upon the mountains and the moors —
No, yet still stedfast, still unchangeable,
Pillowed upon my fair love's ripening breast —
To feel for ever its soft fall and swell,
Awake for ever in a sweet unrest,
Still, still to hear her tender-taken breath,
And so live ever — or else swoon to death.

—John Keats, from The Last Sonnet, 1819 

Thank God somebody still shoots on 35 mm and produces a “real” film that in every detail looks the way film is supposed to look, where color, detail, and art matter.  A film laced with Campion themes and ideas, all beautifully rendered, where one especially admires the meticulous attention to minor details,  this is a tormented love story between a sickly young poet John Keats (Ben Whishaw), unheralded at the time, and his inspiration, the object of his affection, Fanny Brawne (Abbie Cornish), who is consumed by his adoration.  From start to finish this film is an idealization immersed in Romanticism that freely mixes speech and theatricality into cinema in an attempt to broaden the audience’s understanding of the period, from the composition of each shot, where each frame is a portrait in still life, to the extraordinary use of costumes, where actress Abbie Cornish is decorated throughout in simply outrageous, overly dressed outfits which seem to exist only in the movies, to moments where characters break out in a song or dance, and are encouraged by others to do so, usually met with applause, but most importantly with the reverential use of language, which is after all, what we have left from the writings of English poet John Keats, who died of tuberculosis when he was 25.  Jane Campion has done something I’ve never really seen before in films without being pretentious (think of Sally Potter’s 2004 film YES which is spoken entirely in iambic pentameter), which is to create a literary language within the film language that interjects itself from time to time, like a film within a film, or a play within a play, where characters break out into lines of poetry, spoken to one another just like ordinary conversation, except the language itself is such a thing of beauty, including the perfectly exquisite way it’s being spoken, that it feels as if we’re being transported into an entirely new Shakespearean play of young lovers.  This theatrical device increases the emotional intensity and saturates the screen with yet another layer of sensuousness on top of the luscious and inspired cinematography from Greig Fraser, not to mention the hauntingly lovely musical score from Mark Bradshaw.  Everything in this film points to sensuality, from the eloquent way they speak to one another, to the manner of her dress, to the intimately stylized way they’re being framed in close up, followed by idyllic, painterly long shots of her two younger siblings as portraits of innocence in a luscious, unspoiled landscape, always capturing the natural beauty of the world outdoors reminiscent of the cinematic poetry of Terrence Malick’s DAYS OF HEAVEN (1978).

Written by Campion herself, seen through the eyes of Fanny Brawne, we are thrown into a period drama without any introduction or preface, where John Keats has already written his first book of Poems as well as his follow up Endymion, but he remains penniless and not yet a writer of repute, living nearby and supported by a friend Charles Brown (Paul Schneider), a somewhat rakish, ill-mannered gentleman who spends all of his time in the company of Keats, probably borrowing liberally from his writing methods, supposedly liberated fellows intent on writing poetry.  Campion captures the irony of the Romantic era as a period of female acquiescence where Fanny’s quick tongue and self confidence immediately fascinates Keats with her beauty and outspoken candor, not to mention her new interest in his poetry.  Interestingly, Fanny has a skill in clothing design and wears her stunning creations as if on parade throughout the film, where she can usually be seen sitting quietly in a chair with needle and thread.  Keats is seen as reserved, isolated, and shy, well mannered, with a moral disposition and a keen awareness for language, while Fanny is still a teenager at the time and appears self-centered, a bit conceited in her dress and opinion of others, yet she’s also thoughtfully inquisitive, especially for things beyond her reach, like the world of poetry, which quickly becomes her latest curiosity.  She is seen throughout accompanied by her younger brother and sister, as a “proper” lady never goes anywhere unaccompanied.  The initial signs of love are simply a ravenous desire to talk with and be in the company of one another, all of which couldn’t be more natural, even when moving into the theatrical language of the era, stealing moments while trying to elude the net that the possessive Mr. Brown surrounds Keats with, who’s probably of the opinion there’s money to be made from this young protégé.  But the flowering of their love couldn’t be more exquisitely realized, especially with walks in the woods and the remarkably inspired butterfly scenes with her little sister Toots (Edie Martin), also a few shots of Fanny in the throes of love, laying on her bed as the curtains flutter in the breeze, or happily playing in a field exploding in the color of violet flowers with her precocious younger sister, actually projecting her love for Keats to her little sister and the rest of the world at the moment.  But trouble ensues, as Keats tries to earn a living elsewhere, where the entire world stops during those anguishing absences until the next letter arrives, where his letters are all that matters in the world.  But as Fanny’s mother (Kerry Fox from INTIMACY) points out, Keats does not have the financial means to marry, so Fanny’s family is concerned with this all consuming passion, as it prevents her from meeting more economically prosperous prospects.  It is the era of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice where even strong, opinionated women have absolutely no opportunity in life other than to marry a rich husband.  Other than that, they were viewed contemptuously by men thinking their opinion as pretty much worthless, which is exactly the way Fanny is viewed by Mr. Brown, so Campion really gets the tone of the era right.  This social dilemma haunts the couple like a plague throughout their entire lives.

After Keats’ brother dies of tuberculosis, followed by his sudden fascination with Fanny Brawne, his poetry takes on an increasing complexity, intermingling the subjects of love and death, eventually falling victim to tuberculosis himself, soon having to come to terms with his own mortality, writing in one of his last letters: “How astonishing does the chance of leaving the world impress a sense of its natural beauties on us.”  Set in the poverty stricken, pre-industrial, pre-Victorian world of the 1820’s, there was no treatment for tuberculosis other than bed rest and moving to a more temperate climate, so his need to write, like Mozart on his death bed writing his own Requiem, becomes a race with time.  When Keats moves to Italy during the winters, their love affair appears doomed, but Fanny’s hopes throughout will not be deterred.  The blissful optimism of their budding love affair takes on darker, somber tones by the end, where much of the story is advanced through the reading of letters, as Cornish does an excellent job releasing her pent up anguish at the end where she lets out a ghastly death wail.  The finale over the end credits was unnecessarily confusing, as Whishaw reads “Ode to a Nightingale” in its entirety while music plays over the credits all the way to the end, but theater patrons are gathering their coats, talking with one another, even starting cellphone conversations, all with noisy, typical end-of-film behavior, which for most patrons happens as soon as the credits roll, so the voice onscreen couldn’t really be heard over the commotion and just sounded like it went on and on endlessly.  It’s an unfortunate finale, leaving some customers puzzled, as the rest of the film couldn’t have been more meticulously well-constructed, quiet, restrained, uncompromising, and well acted, always finding the right tone between the two characters, who could never marry or even consummate their love, as Keats was an English gentleman.  Certainly the Romantics were fond of suffering, and the initial bliss of love in this relationship is replaced by a tortuous longing for which there is no release, not even after death.  Such is the power of being in the everlasting grasp of love.    

PAPERMAG: WORD UP!: Cinemaniac blog ["One of the Year's Best: Jane Campion's ___!"]

Opening this week is one of the year's best films, Bright Star. Jane Campion’s (The Piano) newest is an exquisitely constructed, lushly romantic tale of the passionate love between 23-year-old poet John Keats (Ben Whishaw) and the girl that lived next door to him while he was in London in 1818 -- Fanny Brawne (Abbie Cornish). Fanny, slavishly devoted to fashion, wit, and dances, was first put-off by the brooding, handsome, serious poet, but soon grows to adore him. It’s hard to explain to modern audiences this kind of chaste but powerful relationship -- made up of letters, stolen kisses, and lying in beds pining for one another with a wall separating the two. But then again, imagine with sadness a future movie about a love affair constructed from saved text-messages. Campion conjures on film the pleasures, excitements, and extravagant mysteries of words. Fanny is a perfect Campion heroine. Headstrong, secure in her own skin, but leading with her heart.

Lessons of Darkness [Nick Schager]

A period piece typified by restraint, delicacy and the romantic spirit of its renowned subject, Jane Campion’s Bright Star details the amorous three-year affair of 19th-century poet John Keats (Ben Whishaw) and Fanny Brawne (Cornish). In keeping with Campion’s career-long interest in investigating and depicting the female perspective, the film sticks closely to Fanny, a young girl with a knack for sewing and, as she confesses to Keats early on, only an amateur knowledge of poetry. Fanny’s gumption, independence and beauty endear her to Keats, a struggling young writer living with poet and benefactor Charles Brown (an adept Paul Schneider), and their feelings blossom despite Keats’ unemployed, penniless condition, which – as Fanny’s mother regularly reminds her – makes him an unsuitable candidate for marriage. Both this obstacle and the jealous interference of Brown, whose fondness for Keats’ writing borders on the possessive, frustrate Keats and Fanny’s attempts to be together, with Campion’s clear-eyed, beautifully composed images (including a recurring one of the couple pressed up against opposite sides of the same wall) evoking the social structures that threaten to keep them apart. Whishaw’s reserved performance and Cornish’s sensitive turn work in tandem to create a poignant portrait of longing and (largely unconsummated) passion. Ultimately more moving, however, is the film’s deft evocation of Keats’ prose through both integrated spoken-word passages that feel both natural and reverent, as well as via seasonal snapshots of the verdant English countryside that (along with numerous images of caressing hands) have a potent tactility.

The Globe and Mail (Rick Groen) review [3/4]

The girl is a mere teenager, and the young man will never grow old. He is fated to die, relatively unheralded, at 25, leaving his poems to endure and grow in stature, and eventually invite praise as the greatest since Shakespeare. She will marry another and, through the rest of her long life, remain secretive about their brief time together. Bright Star is the story of that time, a tale of first love between the belle damsel and the doomed genius. Fanny Brawne, meet John Keats.

In the gentle hands of Jane Campion, what a pure and poignant tale it is. The place is London circa 1820, although Campion takes admirable care not to “mount” the period piece, not to stick the Regency costumes and the attendant manners into a gilded frame. Instead, the modest houses seem lived in, the muddy streets look walked on, and the youthful principals appear refreshingly real. Especially Fanny (Abbie Cornish), who gives the film both its emotional power and its singular point of view. This may be a romance involving the greatest of the Romance poets, but the narrative unfolds not from the perspective of the famous man, but solely through the eyes of the obscure woman.

Immediately, we see those eyes at work, bent over the sewing of a colourful frock. Gaily turned out, Fanny is quite the fashion plate, but don't think any less of her. Keats makes that mistake when they initially meet, only to learn that her wit is as sharp as her needle. Pointing to her spools of thread, she smiles at the poet, who is already published yet still virtually penniless, and retorts, “But I can make money from this.” Bright star, indeed.

The verbal fencing over, her interest in him is sparked by the opening line of his Endymion : “A thing of beauty is a joy forever.” (Here, and elsewhere, Campion stitches in the poetry seamlessly – she's no slouch with a needle herself.) Certainly, there's beauty in their budding relationship; however, the joy is restrained on all sides, not just by the proprieties of the time (their every move is chaperoned by Fanny's tagalong siblings), but more specifically by the particularities of Keats himself – by his failing health, by his empty wallet and, not least, by his best friend.

That would be Charles Brown (played with a deliciously rambunctious burr by Paul Schneider), who sort of triangulates the love affair. Revering Keats's work as he does, Brown regards Fanny as unworthy either of the poetry or the poet. That doesn't stop him from flirting openly with the girl, and the ensuing contrast – between Keats's high romance and Brown's lower lust – grounds the picture in an often-comic earthiness, the profane rubbing shoulders with the sacred.

Of course, it's love's sublimity, or at least its simple purity, that wins out and wins us over – all those gestures small and large, like Fanny tossing Keats a folded note through an open window, or his giving her his mother's ring, or the two leaning their heads against opposite sides of the wall that separates their adjoining homes. Yes, the barriers remain. Yet the very restraint that impedes the lovers is embraced by the director. Shooting with a classical reserve, Campion steadies her camera and calms her style, raising the lyrical volume only when the romance heats up over a short-lived summer. Then, she allows her lens to find a Keatsian enchantment in the wildflowers on the sun-dappled heath and the gentle breeze billowing a gossamer curtain.

Campion demands the same quiet restraint of her cast. As Keats, Ben Whishaw positions himself at the still point between sickness and health, sometimes amorously confused (“I'm not sure I have the right feelings towards women”) yet always artistically confident (“Poetry soothes and enables the soul to accept mystery”). Whishaw is just fine, but Cornish is superb. She's obliged to portray one of Campion's typical heroines – a strong and intelligent woman snared in the mores of her time – without recourse to any flamboyant theatrics. So her eyes alone speak eloquent volumes, seeing much, feeling much, even as Fanny is pushed by convention and circumstance to the margins of Keats's waning life – her love unconsummated and her anxieties unheard.

Admittedly, when the script does allow her emotions to surface, they can seem to grow out of rather thin dramatic soil – for instance, if her letters to him aren't quickly or lengthily answered, she weeps real tears. Consequently, on occasion, the film can feel too minimal and reserved, as lightweight as those gossamer curtains. Mainly, though, Cornish's performance and Campion's direction make for a beguiling marriage, never more so than during the tragic divorce of the climax. Then, in that tiny room above Rome's Spanish Steps, a young man meets his “easeful death,” leaving a younger woman hundreds of miles away to bear the news alone, her girlish tears displaced by a piercing howl that few would hear and most would ignore. Until now.

The Flick Filosopher (MaryAnn Johanson) review

And then there’s this madness: Even movies that are about the women who love great men almost always end up being about the men anyway. I suppose that’s the point of telling the story of such women in the first place: they’re only worth talking about because the great men turned their gaze upon them for a time.

But not this movie. Not Bright Star. John Keats is the intruder into the story of Fanny Brawne, and if you didn’t already know that he turned out to be the renowed poet and she turned out to be “merely” the young woman who loved him, and was loved by him, and inspired some of his greatest poetry, you might be forgiven for assuming that she’s the one who surely washed up legendary years later, for how the film defies the convention of lavishing its focus not on him as the de facto presumptive natural center of attention, but on her.

The beautiful thing about that is that -- as with all expressions of honest feminism -- it ends up being as good for him as it does for her. Because screenwriter and director Jane Campion (In the Cut) has made her Fanny a true bright star for her John to orbit, has brought to breathtakingly lovely life not only the facts of their relationship but the spirit of the poetry that it inspired, and that made the poet the towering figure he is in our minds today. (The poem the film is named for is his ode to Fanny.) I’ve never actually been much of a fan of the Romantic poets, but everything I’ve ever been told about why they’re important and what their words say positively radiates off the screen: the impossibility of separating ourselves from nature, the importance of appreciating the experience of living, the pleasure we take in beauty being its own kind of beauty.

It’s there in the knowing dreaminess of Ben Wishaw’s (The International, Brideshead Revisited) John, who is moody and melancholy as he mopes around the rambling Hampstead houses and fields and woods that the film moves through, locations of expansive wistfulness perfectly suited to a poor poet who thinks of little but words and love and nesting in trees of an afternoon. It’s there in the steely certainty of Abbie Cornish’s (Stop-Loss, Elizabeth: The Golden Age) Fanny, as modern a girl as they come even today: 18 years old, consumed with fashion and creative about it (she makes all her own clothes, wonderful inventions that, you might have thought, were the reason she became famous, were you to suppose that she had), and positive that a poor poet is the man for her, even should he not be in a position to marry.

Marriage is the only option for a respectable, well-brought-up girl like Fanny, for it is 1818, and that’s just how things are. But these are not people who are living in a corseted theme-park version of the past: this is their real world, and the way things are is simply the way things are. They are modern people, as all people always are in their own times but as few films set in historical eras manage to capture. (It’s very much like Joe Wright’s Pride & Prejudice in that regard.) They don’t wear costumes but clothes -- John, especially, is so wonderfully unkempt half the time that he’s entirely the 1818 equivalent of a dude lounging around in old jeans and a torn T-shirt. And their feelings are shown to us by Campion in such a way as to almost make you gasp with recognition for their straightforward authenticity: as Fanny takes to moping over the impossibility of her love for John, she isn’t much unlike teenagers today. When Fanny’s little sister, Toots (the whip-snarky Edie Martin), announces to their mother (Kerry Fox) that “Fanny wants a knife... to kill herself...” well, there’s gentle humor in it -- it’s all lovestruck exaggeration -- but also an almost literally pointed reminder that, you know, heartbreak wasn’t invented by Elvis Presley.

There’s palpable anguish onscreen here, all around. Earlier, it’s in John’s bewilderment at finding himself in love with one such as Fanny, all brash daring and foolish (or so he deems it) frippery: he doesn’t know what to make of women at all, he acknowledges, and doesn’t know why he’s attracted to her. (Ah, that loveliest and most infuriating conundrum: why are we attracted to this person and not to that person?) It’s in Fanny’s wallowing in the wonderful misery of being in love. It’s in John’s best friend and fellow poet Charles Brown, a bulldog presence who resents Fanny’s intrusion into the relationship of two men. (Paul Schneider [Lars and the Real Girl, The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford] as Brown is almost terrifyingly aggressive, though often amusingly so, too, as if Brown were as big a mystery to himself as he is to John and Fanny; Schneider is a just-right mirror image to Wishaw’s delicate passion and brooding consideredness.) It’s there later, when Fanny learns that she and John will never be together again, in a grief so powerful it stunned me into sharing it.

All of the zeal of the Romantics and everything that concerned them is here in the cosy domesticity of Fanny’s home and family and in how Campion presents it to us: the cat that’s always underfoot, even when it’s not wanted; the collection of buttleflies gathered by Fanny and Toots that, in perhaps the film’s most simply beautiful sequence, flitter about Fanny’s bedroom. It’s there in the ardor between Fanny and John, which, for all its chasteness, burns burns burns; Wishaw and Cornish smolder together in a way that we don’t often see onscreen because their characters can never quite give in to their desire for each other.

It’s not only the best possible ode to Keats’ work, this lovely gentle poetic film, it’s the best possible ode to Fanny, as well: If she made him feel the way this movie feels, that must have been a powerful love indeed.

The New York Times (A.O. Scott) review  September 16, 2009

John Keats was a Romantic poet. “Bright Star,” which tells the tale of Keats and Fanny Brawne, the love of his short life, is a romantic movie. The vernacular of popular culture and the somewhat specialized language of literary history assign different meanings to that word, but the achievement of Jane Campion’s learned and ravishing new film is to fuse them, to trace the comminglings and collisions of poetic creation and amatory passion.Skip to next paragraph

This is a risky project, not least because a bog of cliché and fallacy lies between the filmmaker and her goal. In the first decades of the 19th century, some poets may have been like movie stars, but the lives of the poets have been, in general, badly served on film, either neglected altogether or puffed up with sentiment and solemnity. The Regency period, moreover, serves too many lazy, prestige-minded directors as a convenient vintage clothing store. And there are times in “Bright Star” when Keats, played by the pale and skinny British actor Ben Whishaw (“Perfume,” “I’m Not There”), trembles on the edge of caricature. He broods; he coughs (signaling the tuberculosis that will soon kill him); he looks dreamily at flowers and trees and rocks.

But these moments, rather than feeling studied or obvious, arrive with startling keenness and disarming beauty, much in the way that Keats’s own lyrics do. His verses can at first seem ornate and sentimental, but on repeated readings, they have a way of gaining in force and freshness. The music is so intricate and artificial, even as the emotions it carries seem natural and spontaneous. And while no film can hope to take you inside the process by which these poems were made, Ms. Campion allows you to hear them spoken aloud as if for the first time. You will want to stay until the very last bit of the end credits, not necessarily to read the name of each gaffer and grip, but rather to savor every syllable of Mr. Whishaw’s recitation of “Ode to a Nightingale.”

Keats’s genius — underestimated by many of the critics of his time, championed by a loyal coterie of literary friends — is the fixed point around which “Bright Star” orbits. Its animating force, however, is the infatuation that envelops Keats and Brawne in their early meetings and grows, over the subsequent months, into a sustaining and tormenting love. Mr. Keats, as his lover decorously calls him, is diffident and uneasy at times, but also witty, sly and steadfast. The movie really belongs to Brawne, played with mesmerizing vitality and heart-stopping grace by Abbie Cornish.

Ms. Cornish, an Australian actress whose previous films include “Stop-Loss,” “Candy” and “Somersault,” has, at 27, achieved a mixture of unguardedness and self-control matched by few actresses of any age or nationality. She’s as good as Kate Winslet, which is about as good as it’s possible to be.

Fanny, the eldest daughter of a distracted widow (Kerry Fox), has some of the spirited cleverness of a Jane Austen heroine. A gifted seamstress, she prides herself on her forward-looking fashion sense and her independence. She is also vain, insecure and capable of throwing herself headlong into the apparent folly of adoring a dying and penniless poet, something no sensible Austen character would ever do.

If it were just the poet and his beloved, “Bright Star” might collapse in swooning and sighing, or into the static rhythms of a love poem. And while there are passages of extraordinary lyricism — butterflies, fields of flowers, fluttering hands and beseeching glances — these are balanced by a rough, energetic worldliness. Lovers, like poets, may create their own realms of feeling and significance, but they do so in contention with the same reality that the rest of us inhabit.

The film’s designated reality principle is Charles Brown (Paul Schneider), Keats’s friend, patron and collaborator and his main rival for Fanny’s attention. For Brown, Fanny is an irritant and a distraction, though the sarcastic intensity of their banter carries an interesting sexual charge of its own. In an Austen novel this friction would be resolved in matrimony, but “Bright Star,” following the crooked, shadowed path of biographical fact, has a different story to tell.

Brown and Keats are neighbors to the Brawne brood in Hampstead in 1818, when the story begins. In April of the following year the poets are occupying one-half of a house, with Fanny and her mother and siblings on the other side of the wall. After nine months Keats, in declining health, is dispatched to Italy by a committee of concerned friends, but until then he and Fanny consummate their love in every possible way except physically.

Ms. Campion is one of modern cinema’s great explorers of female sexuality, illuminating Sigmund Freud’s “dark continent” with skepticism, sympathy and occasional indignation. “Bright Star” could easily have become a dark, simple fable of repression, since modern audiences like nothing better than to be assured that our social order is freer and more enlightened than any that came before. But Fanny and Keats are modern too, and though the mores of their time constrain them, they nonetheless regard themselves as free.

The film is hardly blind to the sexual hypocrisy that surrounds them. Fanny can’t marry Keats because of his poverty, but Brown blithely crosses class lines to have some fun with (and impregnate) a naïve and illiterate young household servant (Antonia Campbell-Hughes). That Fanny and Keats must sublimate their longings in letters, poems and conversations seems cruel, but they make the best of it. As does Ms. Campion: a sequence in which, fully clothed, the couple trades stanzas of “La Belle Dame Sans Merci” in a half-darkened bedroom must surely count as one of the hottest sex scenes in recent cinema.

The heat of that moment and others like it deliver “Bright Star” from the tidy prison of period costume drama. Ms. Campion, with her restless camera movements and off-center close-ups, films history in the present tense, and her wild vitality makes this movie romantic in every possible sense of the word.

Salon (Stephanie Zacharek) review


Combustible Celluloid (Jeffrey M. Anderson) review


The Wall Street Journal (Joe Morgenstern) review


Village Voice (J. Hoberman) review


James Bowman review


PopMatters (Renee Scolaro Mora) review


Slant Magazine review  Ed Gonzalez


New York Magazine (David Edelstein) review


Screen International (Allan Hunter) review at Cannes (Howard Schumann) review


ReelViews (James Berardinelli) review [3/4] (Chris Cabin) review [3.5/5] (Mel Valentin) review [4/5]


CompuServe (Harvey S. Karten) review (Brian Orndorf) review [B]


One Guy's Opinion (Frank Swietek) review [B]


Jane Campion's Conspicuous Heroines   Jessica Winter from Moving Image Source


Tim Hayes  Critics Notebook


Campion’s Prudish “Star” Needs More Sizzle   Eric Kohn from indieWIRE, May 15, 2009


Cannes '09: Day Three  Mike D’Angelo at Cannes from The Onion A.V. Club, May 15, 2009


Cannes contender Jane Campion gives clarion call to women directors  Charlotte Higgins at Cannes from The Guardian, May 15, 2009


Jane Campion, Where Have You Been?  Eugene Hernandez at Cannes from indieWIRE, May 15, 2009


Melissa Anderson  at Cannes from Artforum, May 15, 2009


Bright Star  David Hudson at Cannes from The IFC Blog, May 15, 2009


Campion in Cannes  Charles Ealy at Cannes from 360 Austin Movie Blog, May 15, 2009


Entertainment Weekly review [A-]   Lisa Schwarzbaum


The Hollywood Reporter review  Ray Bennett at Cannes, May 15, 2009


Todd McCarthy  at Cannes from Variety, May 15, 2009


Time Out Online (Dave Calhoun) review [4/6]  at Cannes


Time Out New York (Keith Uhlich) review [2/6]

James Christopher  Bright Star at the Cannes Film Festival, from The Times Online, May 16, 2009

The Daily Telegraph review [5/5]  David Gritten at Cannes from The Telegraph, May 15, 2009

Cannes 2009: film charts John Keats' romance with Fanny Brawne - in Luton  Anita Singh at Cannes from The Telegraph, May 15, 2009

Campion: Female directors need to be tough  Anita Singh at Cannes from The Telegraph, May 16, 2009
Bright Star (Jane Campion)  Peter Bradshaw at Cannes from The Guardian, May 15, 2009 
Blog: Doomed love is in the air at Cannes  Catherine Shoard from The Guardian Blog, May 15, 2009


Bright Star: at last a good film about poetry  John Patterson from The Guardian, October 31, 2009


Cannes '09 Day 3: Rain, Romanticism   Wesley Morris at Cannes from The Boston Globe, May 15, 2009


Austin Chronicle (Marjorie Baumgarten) review [4/5]


San Francisco Chronicle (Amy Biancolli) review [4/4]


Los Angeles Times [Kenneth Turan]   Turan talks with Campion at Cannes, May 18, 2009


Los Angeles Times [Kenneth Turan]  September 18, 2009


Chicago Tribune (Michael Phillips) review


Chicago Sun-Times (Roger Ebert) review [3.5/4]


Jane Campion Presents Another Resilient Heroine  Joan Dupont at Cannes from The New York Times, May 15, 2009


Christopher Ricks  book review on Posthumous Keats: A Personal Biography, by Stanley Plumly (392 pages), from The New York Review of Books


John Keats - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia


The Life and Work of John Keats (1795-1821)


Keats : Poetry of John Keats, at  a selection of poems


John Keats  a selection of sonnets


Poet: John Keats - All poems of John Keats


John Keats  from Books and Writers


An Introduction to "Bright Star"   an analysis of the poem


Romanticism - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia


rom  The Romantic Age, 1770 – 1870


TOP OF THE LAKE – made for TV                    A                     95       

Australia  Great Britain  (350 mi – 7 episodes) 2013 


You can be very hard. And what I don't like is that you think it’s strength.     — Robin’s mother Jude Griffin (Robyn Nevin)


There’s no match for the tremendous intelligence of the body.           —GJ (Holly Hunter)


There has been a gradual introduction of movies made for television into film festivals, where the Melbourne and Telluride Film Festivals were among the first to program the three films in the RED RIDING TRILOGY (2009) made for British television, while the full-length, 5-hour French version of the Olivier Assayas film CARLOS (2010) premiered at Cannes, and the Venice Festival premiered Todd Haynes’ MILDRED PIERCE (2011), all to critical acclaim.  This year Jane Campion’s feminist noir TOP OF THE LAKE became the first television series to ever premiere at the Sundance Film Festival, later screening again at Berlin, a 6-hour jointly produced BBC and Sundance Channel film TV miniseries spread out over 7 episodes, though the pacing and burning intensity are much more effective when compressed into a single viewing, especially without having to undergo commercials and the repeating credit sequence.  Since it had been four years since she made a film, Campion reveals her thoughts on finding more freedom working in television from the Hollywood Reporter, “Feature filmmaking is now quite conservative. The lack of restraints, the longer story arc:  It's a luxury not there generally in film.”  Campion’s AN ANGEL AT MY TABLE (1990) was originally produced as a New Zealand television miniseries, but was re-edited and released internationally as a film.  Set in Laketop, a small town set on a gorgeous lake in a remote and mountainous area of New Zealand (actually shot by Adam Arkapaw at South Island’s Moke Lake and the cities of Queenstown and Glenorchy, including Lake Wakatipu seen here:  1,280 × 960 pixels), Elisabeth Moss plays Robin Griffin, a big city Australian police detective from Sydney with a specialty in child investigations, who happens to be visiting her mother who is stricken with cancer, but it’s also something of a coming home experience, as she grew up in the region as well.  Called in for an emergency, the local police, under the command of Detective Sgt. Al Parker (David Wenham), have a pregnant 12-year old Thai girl named Tui Mitcham (newcomer Jacqueline Joe, supposedly discovered at an Auckland swimming pool), who may have been attempting a miscarriage or drowning herself in the lake.  What’s immediately clear is not just the plight of the child, but the antiquated male-dominated police procedures where women continue to be leered at as sexual objects, routinely called sluts (or worse), and crimes against women are not really taken seriously by anyone in town, seen more as the usual sport between a man and a woman, so no one respects Robin’s authority on the case and can be heard making snickering comments on the side.  No one, for instance, takes the crime of rape against a 12-year old girl seriously except Detective Griffin, where they all heartily agree to her face that she’s right but then make no effort whatsoever to find the rapist.


It’s no accident that the best episodes are directed by Campion herself, including the first, fourth, and final two episodes, feeling almost mythical, featuring some stunning performances, where the richly detailed pieces of information unraveling in the opening few minutes are nothing less than intoxicating, filled with the beauty of the landscape, local color and plenty of eccentric characters.  Echoes of David Lynch’s TWIN PEAKS (1990 – 1991) are evident, especially in the exotic setting, the small town mindset, a body washed ashore, the toxic effect of holding onto secrets, strangely offbeat characters, and the presence of an outsider, in each case an abnormally astute police detective.  Like Laura Palmer, Tui is at the heart of the film, attractively appealing and the picture of innocence, as no one knows the truth about her, especially after she reveals the name of the father is literally “no one.”  Through Tui, Campion seems to be suggesting that women’s behavior in particular is a product of family dynamics, the surrounding community values, and the random events that comprise our lives.  What’s perhaps most frightening is the callously disturbing and pathological behavior of her father, Matt Mitcham (Peter Mullan at his most sinister), the town’s drug lord whose two sons are equally psychopathic in carrying out his dirty business (where the patriarchal family circle is actually Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John).  We see evidence of their nonchalant brutality in an opening scene, where they haven’t an ounce of concern for human life, living in a heavily armed fortress compound protected by modern surveillance equipment and intentionally starved pitbulls that run rampant.  When Tui quickly disappears, we begin to understand what it might be like as a girl growing up in this town.  This exact same subject is then explored through black and white flashback sequences, as Robin suffered her own share of childhood trauma growing up in this town, where the parallel lives of Robin and Tui remain linked throughout the film.  Interestingly, Elisabeth Moss was not the first choice for the film, as Campion offered the part to Anna Paquin, who declined due to her pregnancy, and when the part was offered to an American actress, the Australian Broadcasting Corporation pulled out of the project, insisting that it would only fund the film with an Australian or New Zealand lead actress.  The choice of Moss is literally perfect in the role, where it’s hard to think of the film without her, largely because she never overacts or displays too much, and though she is deeply scarred, reminiscent of Jodie Foster’s tenuous predicament as Clarice Starling in THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS (1991), she continues to be defined by her intelligence, constantly guarding her thoughts, where the impact of others can easily be read upon her face, an opaque presence that mirrors the world around her, remaining mysteriously vulnerable and even fragile while standing up to a dominating male presence. 


What distinguishes this film is the densely plotted novelesque quality, where even comically drawn secondary characters are significant to the overall portrayal of humans desperately in need, where there’s an untapped ferocity of spirit seen in both Tui and Robin.  Adding to this picture of a lone voice in the wilderness is an inspired idea to create a separatist women’s collective, a Greek chorus of damaged women living together in trucked-in shipping containers at a lakeside retreat called Paradise that sits on disputed land, as Matt claims they’re trespassing, a rag tag group of exiled women led by Holly Hunter as the dispassionate GJ, a guru-like presence in pants spouting Zen-like philosophic utterances, as if she can read each person’s future, but possessing the deranged personality of a social misfit herself, often seen pacing the grounds while off in the distance a few naked women are continually seen running free.  The lustful nature of the women is part of the untold story, including the sexual promiscuity of several of the women living on the compound, including a memorable scene from Geneviève Lemon (the 7-minute woman) who played the lead role in SWEETIE (1989), as the men in town are perceived as testosterone fueled adolescents, especially in the moments Robin spends enduring endlessly abusive taunting by men in bars, yet woman have to find their place in an existing contemporary landscape, including Robin’s own sexual desires, seen developing for Johnno (Thomas M. Wright), a childhood sweetheart and one of Matt’s offspring, a good son that rejects the maniacal nature of his tyrannical crime boss father.  The two are a sexual force bonded together by her childhood trauma, where Johnno was her high school prom date and suspiciously absent afterwards on a night she was brutally gang raped by four drunken men.  This trauma gives her all the more reason to protect Tui, even if the town has given up looking for her, suspecting she must be dead after the passage of two months.  There’s an interesting thematic projection of men’s fears and limitations, expressed through the perceived effects of hostile elements, as no one thinks she could survive out there alone in the cold, while the repeated mention of the lethal quality of the water is always described as so cold that “no one could survive in that water.”  Yet somehow, just when Robin is told her mother has terminal cancer, easily one of the key moments in the film, intimately captured with the camera holding completely onto Robin’s face, at that exact moment when all hope is lost, there is also a chance that Tui has somehow survived.


Tui’s absence changes the nature of the film, as her unseen presence, Robin’s own personal trauma, and her mother’s impending death all blend together and continually haunt Robin, who becomes the film’s dominant force, as events are continuously seen through her eyes.  The on again and off again relationship with her boss, Al, always seems to be of secondary importance, part of the police procedural component of the film, as their presence together is usually mandatory.  But his exclusively male take on events offers a differing viewpoint than her own, but Campion is careful not to make him one-dimensional, where he’s one of the more complexly drawn characters in the film, though never entirely likeable, especially as he’s seen to be in cahoots with Matt’s criminal empire, usually protecting him or tipping him off about upcoming police activities.  But Robin doesn’t know this and continually exposes a vulnerable side to him, where her life is an open book while we know almost nothing about him.  His extravagant home offers a clue, and is the setting for one of the more controversial events in the film, as he invites her over for dinner where she stupidly drinks too much and eventually passes out, waking up alone in his bedroom the next morning wearing one of his shirts.  He reassures her that nothing happened, that she vomited all over her clothes, so he was forced to wash them, all of which sounds like a perfectly acceptable explanation.  And that’s the problem with Al’s character, as his answers are too pat, sounding overly detached and too well reasoned ahead of time, never speaking passionately in the moment, where what comes across is an arrogant and pompous man that’s used to getting his way and never having to answer for it.  Al typifies the male mentality of the town, even if Matt is the Alpha male, while he sits quietly lurking in the background collecting his cut of the overall operations, running a secret Ecstasy and amphetamine lab underneath Matt’s home.  In contrast to Robin and Al, Matt has his own sexual experience with one of the women from the compound, Anita, Robyn Malcolm, who simply craves male companionship.  Their hallucinogenic outdoor experience in the woods on Ecstasy is unusual for how it sensitively portrays a ruthless crime boss at his most vulnerable state, used much like the LSD cemetery sequence in EASY RIDER (1969), where the dealers are seen under the influence of their own drugs, often haunted by impending thoughts of death and mortality.


At some point, and one barely realizes when it occurs, the focus shifts from the overly destructive and malicious behavior of the adults to the often misunderstood and more innocent motives of kids, where a strange young girl (Georgi Kay) dropped off at the women’s compound is continuously seen playing an electric guitar in various natural outdoor locations, NEW Ipswich- Georgi Kay (live) (4:50), offering voice to a new and different force that hasn’t been seen much or heard from, namely the next generation, Tui’s generation.  Robin interrogates a young boy for shoplifting, Jamie (Luke Buchanon), seen crossing the lake in a kayak, suspected of bringing food to a drop site, significant as he’s one of Tui’s best friends, perhaps even the father.  Jamie has the unusual habit of not speaking to adults, so Al tries to knock some sense into this kid, using decisively forceful measures until he’s thrown out of the interrogation room by Robin.  The kid disappears the next day, along with all the food in the refrigerator and kitchen cabinets, leading to a kind of idyllic Lord of the Flies gathering of kids in the woods without the presence of a bullying leader, where we discover the re-emergence of Tui along with boatloads of friends.  But Matt and his gang are soon on to them, forcing a very pregnant Tui and Jamie to escape, only to lead to certain tragedy, which has a horrific effect, especially within the women’s compound.  The slowed pacing also reflects a kind of impasse, a turning in the tide, where some of the women are finally willing to stand up to these powerful men, refusing to be scared or intimidated by them.  In a memorial sequence for one of the lost kids, Georgi Kay - Joga (Top of the Lake - Jamies memorial scene ... (2:40), featuring Mirrah Foulkes as the distraught mother, some may be shocked or confused at just how unmanly the women are, as they don’t go the Eastwood vigilante route and demand justice through the power of a gun or through brute strength, which is what movies have trained us to expect, but this psychological transformation has been slow in coming and continues to evolve at an excruciatingly slow pace, yet it’s among the more unique scenes in the film, as the women collectively express a quiet desperation without any hint of violence, viewed as an exclusively male domain.   


The finale goes even further down that road, where the discovery of a date rape drug figures prominently into the tortured lives of teens, many of whom in the past have ended up dead under mysteriously unexplained circumstances.  It’s all a bit alarming, but it also figures into Robin’s own past, where it doesn’t do her any good to dig too deeply into the heart of her own trauma, never wanting to meet the child she gave up for adoption as she never wanted to explain to a child that they were the product of a gang rape, thinking this revelation could induce suicidal thoughts of zero self-worth, deciding it’s better to “Fuck the truth,” where life is so much more complicated than we could ever imagine, where human behavior is simply too despicable.  One theme Campion appears to be advocating is that the more attention paid to pain, the worse things often become.  The movie can be shocking at times with its spurts of sudden violence, but in this film it’s not about women chasing after vengeance, where the obsession for justice only creates more injustice, as it’s so easy to lose sight of the arc of your own life, but it also shouldn’t be some inhumane evil that we continually answer to.  In the end, the film veers into an ambiguously disturbing road movie, like a journey through an existential wasteland, actually discussed at great length in the women’s group talkathons, which are almost a parody of self-help groups, where GJ often berates their whining and moaning, claiming they’re “madder than ever,” saying she needs to “just get away from these crazy bitches,” getting as far away as she can, yet still taking us on an interior journey more self-reflective and psychologically complex than what we’re used to from crime dramas, like say the highly successful THE MILLENNIUM TRILOGY (2009).  Actually it’s more like the continuing arduousness of The Odyssey, a prolonged journey filled with epic challenges, where the hero survives only by extraordinary cunning and perseverance, where likewise the collective effect of this film is an assault on the senses, causing a shock to the system and a rewiring of the circuitry, finding oneself at the center of a great human tragedy, offering no societal cure or moral answers, nothing more than the brave choice of learning how to discover our own humanity, often the last one thing we pay any attention to as we’re so busy navigating our way through life.  But in the end, eerily enough, someone, perhaps even Robin, is going to be in a position to help raise a child that is the product of gang rape, as the cycle of life continues where we’re continually forced to face our worst fears. 


“Episode One”/“Episode Two” | Top Of The Lake | TV ... - The AV Club  Scott Tobias

“You’re a long way from any help,” says a concerned mother to Robin Griffin, a big-city cop who’s investigating a crime in an idyllic New Zealand backwater in Jane Campion’s mini-series Top Of The Lake. “I am the help,” she replies.

That little exchange captures both Robin’s predicament and the essence of who she is. In Campion’s feminist noir, which airs two of seven episodes tonight on the Sundance Channel, there’s a heightened awareness that Robin not only has the responsibility of taking lead on a rape/missing person case, but also has to navigate the world of men. That means getting second-guessed and mocked by local cops below her rank; intimidated and harassed by roughnecks who don’t respect her authority (or even the seriousness of crimes against women); and put under a level of scrutiny from all parties that would be unthinkable for a male detective. The closest cinematic antecedent may be Clarice Starling in Jonathan Demme’s The Silence Of The Lambs, and so far, Campion’s point-of-view is similarly expansive, covering Robin, a 12-year-old victim, and an entire makeshift community of women—some fighting abuse, others withstanding it, still more seeking refuge.

Returning to the TV format for the first time since 1990’s An Angel At My Table, her superb autobiography of mental patient turned novelist Janet Frame, Campion and co-writer Gerard Lee borrow the basic framework of David Lynch’s cult classic Twin Peaks (lush setting, outsider detective, small town, big secrets, even a dead body lapped ashore), but makes it unmistakably her own. There’s no shortage of eccentric local color here, but it’s not of the abstracted Lynchian variety, save maybe for a colony of exiled women led by Holly Hunter’s ash-haired guru, who has a tendency to speak in odd philosophical aphorisms. In Queenstown, New Zealand, what passes for quirky passes also for hostile, like the victim’s sinister father, who lives in a surveilled fortress and has two of his three sons trained like famished pitbulls, or a bartender whose cabin is an apocalypse bunker of stockpiled rifles.

The haunting opening image of a young girl walking into the lake recalls Kenji Mizoguchi’s Sansho The Bailiff—and the connection is likely not a coincidence, given Mizoguchi’s career-long interest in the plight of women. In Sansho The Bailiff, the suicide ends the crushing despair and hopelessness of being sold into slavery; in Top Of The Lake, 12-year-old Tui (Jacqueline Joe) only gets shoulder-deep before turning back, but it’s not hard to imagine her being overcome by despair and hopelessness of another kind. After she’s rescued from the lake and taken back to school for an examination, the nurse discovers that Tui is pregnant, prompting a statutory rape investigation.

In town to care for her cancer-stricken mother, Robin (Elizabeth Moss) succeeds to a limited degree in getting Tui to open up and talk to her about what happened. But before she can follow up on the one literal scrap of information she could extract from the girl—a piece of notebook paper with the words “NO ONE” in response to a paternity question—Tui vanishes without a trace. Her father Matt Mitcham, played with chilling ferocity by Peter Mullan, emerges as the prime suspect, a drug dealer and small-time gangster who seems capable of any crime, given his hair-trigger temper and his casual disregard for human and animal life. In murder mysteries like Top Of The Lake, Matt would be the first one eliminated in the whodunit, because his guilt seems too obvious. The same, however, isn’t true of his two brutish sons, or a third, Johnno (Thomas M. Wright), who has a past with Robin.

Lately, the Mitchams’ ire has been raised mainly by the presence of strange women in “Paradise,” a slice of lakeside heaven that he claims to own. When GJ (Hunter) and a small cadre of middle-aged women set up a hippie shantytown of shipping containers on the property, Matt and sons first blame the local realtor who took Paradise out from under them, then on the women themselves, who are all seeking protection from just this sort of thuggery. In her own way, GJ seems as capable of dealing with the threat as Robin, but she goes about her business with a more Zen-like reserve. She wants to care for and protect her vulnerable charges, but Tui’s presence in her camp the night before her disappearance will certainly make that a challenge.

Wavering Kiwi accent aside, there’s no more ideal choice to play Robin than Elizabeth Moss, who knows well how to play an enterprising woman in a man’s world from her time at Sterling Cooper in Mad Men. Moss exudes more confidence here, in part because Top Of The Lake takes place in present-day and not the early ‘60s, and in part because Robin would be eaten alive if she failed to assert herself. Yet in both shows, Moss remains a fascinating enigma, driven by unseen forces and haunted by mysterious vulnerabilities. It would be easy enough for Campion to make Robin the noble feminine warrior in an arena thick with testosterone, but Moss has a talent for making herself sympathetic and strong while keeping the full scope of her feelings and motives under close guard. In other words, she’s the type of actress who can carry a TV show—be it six hours or six seasons.

Though it’s hard to make any firm statements about the plotting through two-sevenths of the story, Top Of The Lake is succeeding so far where Campion’s other attempt at genre subversion, 2003’s In The Cut, fell drastically short. Campion’s eagerness to attack a common format from a feminist angle—in that case, the sexy thriller made popular by Basic Instinct and its imitators—wasn’t matched by much care in the storytelling. There may be a whiff of conventionality to the central mystery in Top Of The Lake, but it appears much more sure-footed than In The Cut—to say nothing of the ongoing debacle that is AMC’s similar The Killing—and compelling even if Campion had nothing else in mind but an entertaining yarn. After all, in order to plumb the depths, she must first have the lake.

Stray observations:

  • I studiously avoided mentioning the identity of the body washed ashore. That would be Bob Platt, a realtor everyone in town appears to have hated, which gives the Mitchams some cover, along with the assumption that Platt drowned accidentally. The sequence where Platt drowns on a towline from the Mitchams' boat underlines Matt's reckless disregard for human life, even as later scenes make him seem genuinely incapable of doing his own daughter grievous harm.
  • Paradise looks to be a solid source of comic relief in a show that could use some. From Hunter's eccentric musings to scenes like the one where a woman offers cash to any barfly willing to have sex for seven minutes, the group's offbeat antics had a funny (or at least tragicomic) bent that holds the show's darker elements in balance.
  • Campion and Lee are wise to suggest trouble in Robin's past without getting into it too heavily in these early episodes. Such revelations stand to pay off more forcefully later, and they don't threaten to undermine the central mystery while it's being established.
  • I haven't said a word about David Wenham, despite his second billing in the cast. Despite having deer taxidermy mounted above his desk, Wenham's Al Parker seems more open to being a true partner to Robin and a promising sign that Campion intends to bring nuance to the men, too.
  • Matt's words about Tui's pregnancy are cold-blooded in the extreme, even before he calls her a “slut” like him. After he vows to take her to a clinic the next day, Robin informs him that the girl is four or five months along. His response: “I'll take her to Sydney.”
  • Robin's mother delivers my favorite lines of the two episodes: “You can be very hard. And what I don't like is that you think it's strength.”
  • Incredible scene in the second episode involving Bob Platt's dog. The alpha gesture of shooting the animal in Robin's presence, just to trigger fear and revulsion, is stunning—and an indicator of how Matt and his boys hold such criminal agency in the town.
  • And yet: “It's good what you're doing, you know? Helping out my daughter, she's in a tough spot. Just understand one thing: No one loves her more than me. No one.”
  • The need for helicopters on the hunt for Tui leads to some breathtaking overhead shots that emphasize the needle-in-a-haystack futility of a missing-persons search in this area.
  • “A sheep's vagina is the closest thing to a woman's vagina,” says the roughneck who has just mocked Robin as a feminist lesbian.


“Episode Three” | Top Of The Lake | TV Club | TV | The A.V. Club  Scott Tobias

Now that we’re past the two-part première and into the third of seven parts, the question remains: To what extent was Top Of The Lake conceived as seven distinct episodes of television and to what extent is it merely a seven-episode unfolding of one complete story? We can say for sure that casual viewers could not drop in on “Episode Three” and get a satisfying, coherent, standalone nugget of television. In that sense, it’s completely serialized. On the other hand, there are themes specific to tonight’s hour that set it apart from the two we’ve seen before. So while I’m mostly continuing to review the show in medias res, oblivious to how individual parts will fit into the completely whole, the third seventh does have a particular flavor.

The prevailing theme is one of self-loathing and self-abuse, and it makes partners out of our adversaries, Robin and Matt. Until now, Robin has been an intrepid pursuer of justice in a corrupt and hostile place, slashing through a thicket of male authority figures and local roughnecks to get to the bottom of a missing persons case. Sure, there’s a degree of selfishness to what she’s doing: She’s freaked out by having to care for her cancer-stricken mother and the case gives her an excellent reason to get out of it—and puts her on much surer ground to boot. But Robin feels, properly, that she can be an advocate for Tui where none exists and though she has a better feel for the culture than a true outsider, she’s constantly displaying bravery and resolve in moving the investigation forward.

And yet the feeling that she’s cast dangerously adrift comes through forcefully in “Episode Three.” Her flirty texts with “Steve,” her fiancé from Sydney, turn here into a tense phone call where he’s impatient and disbelieving of her rationalizations for continuing to stay there. We also learn her engagement to Steve is now over five years long and counting, which seems entirely due to foot-dragging on her part. But the true extent of her restlessness and self-destructive nature—qualities she shares with Elisabeth Moss’ character on Mad Men, e.g. her dalliance with Vincent Kartheiser’s Pete Campbell—really comes out in her renewed sexual relationship to Johnno, the son of her prime suspect. A session in a bar bathroom leads to a bedroom scene where Johnno asks Robin to keep her engagement ring on during sex—a form of territorial pissing that seems a bit much, frankly.

Meanwhile, Peter Mullan’s Matt continues to be a fascinatingly shifty character, with some moments of tenderness sneaking into a persona defined by anger, paranoia, and violence. Matt has some heat taken off him when Wolfie, the rifle-blasting bartender, is found hanging from a tree outside his cabin, with an apologetic suicide note on the inside table. Robin joins the rest of us in not believing Wolfie has any connection to Tui’s disappearance, particularly after a forest grave reveals a dead dog.

Episode three of Top Of The Lake is a reminder of Matt’s dark charisma, his ability to assert his will and forge relationships through qualities other than instilling fear in people. He and Al (David Wenham), for instance, have an arrangement that gives him the jump on Robin’s investigation, and he wields his charm again when he comes to Paradise bearing flowers. His intent is to ask questions of GJ, but as we see with Robin earlier (“How are your knees? You will go down hard—bang!”), she’s more inclined to ask questions and make prophetic statements than give out information. But he comes away with Anita (Robyn Malcolm), a Paradise resident who finds him alluring enough to look past his psychosis. She can do so no longer when Matt takes her to visit his mother’s grave, freaks out over her treading on it, and proceeds to flagellate himself with a belt.

In terms of the main investigation, Robin and Matt’s behavior suggest different things: Robin’s personal issues will be an obstacle in the investigation and Matt’s upset over his mother indicates that he really does care about his family as much as he says he does, even if his relationship with them is dangerously twisted. Overall, this third episode undermines that assumption that Robin and Matt, powerful as they are, exercise as much control over their lives as they seem to. Their weaknesses make them vulnerable, and each will likely be expert in sussing them out in the other.

Stray observations:

·         Some serious gallows humor at Paradise over a locked shipping container: “It’s where we keep all the dead children.”

·         Moss’ reaction to her mother’s news about being taken off chemo is a great piece of acting. Robin should understand right away that it’s bad news—that the treatments aren’t working and the cancer is terminal. But she doesn’t, so the news registers on Moss’ face in a wave of shock and despair.

·         Robin nearly stumbles onto Matt’s drug operation, tucked in a secret passageway beneath a bathroom shower. The sight of two women leaving the bathroom—and Matt’s hasty, none-too-convincing explanation—bring her back to it, however.

·         “Can we do a bit more of the wrong thing before we do the right thing?” If I had a problem with this episode, it’s that it could have been less explicit in parts. (See also: Sex with the engagement ring on.)

·         Tui’s “NO ONE” note appears to be the key piece of evidence. To be continued…

“Episode Four” | Top Of The Lake | TV Club | TV | The A.V. Club  Brandon Norwalk

“Episode Four” of Top Of The Lake is an unusually focused leg of the marathon, as everyone shines some light on Robin’s attack and rape by four drunk men on her way home after a dance 15 years ago. Al tells Robin how he and some others, including Matt, rounded up the criminals and punished them. Robin tells him about how she gave birth to Sarge’s child. Her mother announces that she wants to meet her grandchild even if Robin doesn’t. And Johnno nearly makes a confession so unbearable to Robin that she cuts him off.

The episode is constantly negotiating between knowledge and ignorance. Al doesn’t really want to know what happened to Bob Platt, Wolfgang Zanic, or a third case a pathologist can’t explain. Simone is afraid to know what’s going on with her son Jamie, who collects bones and doesn’t speak anymore. Most significantly, Robin does and doesn’t want to know what happened to her. In the first scene, she says, “Fuck the truth, Al,” although by the time it’s over, she and Al have filled in the aftermath for both the rapists and the victim. Before Johnno and Robin get too close to the trauma, he asks, “Are you up for it?” and she shakes her head no. At the end she stops him: “Don’t tell me. Don’t tell me.”

Top Of The Lake is stylistically emphatic, but not in the comically overcast way of The Killing. And there’s certainly no lurid thrill to the crime. A prom photo takes us back to a faded brown dance, magical at the time maybe, but now only sickening. Some guys interrupt a dance, and Johnno leaves Robin alone and upset without an explanation; inexplicably, black balloons flank her as she stands in the doorway peering into the darkness. A foggy gray outdoor shot is marked by sudden headlights, failed communication, and a chain-link dog cage. It’s a sequence of pure helpless despair as we wait to see how far directors Garth Davis and Jane Campion will take us into the trauma.

An earlier scene is a much subtler window into what Cinemascope’s Michael Sicinski calls a jungle of patriarchy. After a drunken dinner with Al, Robin can barely stand up, so he takes her keys from her. The next morning, she wakes up in a quiet, anxious scene of worrisome details: She’s in Al’s bed; she’s wearing his shirt; he took off her pants; he’s already left for the office. And this isn’t even a Mitcham or one of the barflies. Top Of The Lake successfully if momentarily builds all this suspicion around Robin’s co-worker and boss. When she pushes him on the details of the evening, trying to catch him off-balance by alternating between questions about the night before and new evidence in the Tui disappearance, he answers well. “So why don’t I feel like saying thank you?” She can’t be sure, even with friendly Al.

The gender war really gets obvious with Matt. Anita again violates a sacred space for him, this time by curling up on Tui’s bed the morning after. It’s an unwelcome act of penetration, and if you really want to get symbolic, Matt also lashes out because Anita’s cup handles point inward. Matt always seems impotent when it comes to hands-on physical violence, though, asserting his will through his sons and motor vehicles. This time, he responds to Anita’s transgressions by flinging her to the ground with the force of his car when he rams the Paradise gate as she struggles to unlock it, haranguing the women about their menstrual waste saturating his land, and telling each of the women that she’s unfuckable.

The women in Top Of The Lake are bound by endurance, from Robin to her mother. Every encroachment on the Paradise community is met with a swirling mass of non-violently resisting bodies. The men are bound by power, from Al dragging his feet to Matt intimidating the town. Zanic pulls a gun on her even though he’s done nothing wrong. Even the friendliest faces adhere to the type: Johnno interrupts Robin’s interview of Tui’s mother. But Robin is cracking up. Al suggests she pull Sarge over for an auto violation and book him. “Okay,” she says with steel, “And after that can I kill him?” The line recalls the climax of The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, another murder mystery about a sick patriarchy.

Later, on the heels of two other charmers, Sarge approaches Robin at the bar like he’s found his receptacle for the evening. She’s chuckling that he doesn’t remember her. It’s pitch black. “Did we fuck or something?” As soon as the words come out, Elisabeth Moss drops the smirk, darts right to his eyes, and holds. Just as suddenly, she breaks a bottle on the bar and stabs him with it, possibly more than once. He collapses to the ground (chuckling?) as Johnno carries her out the door into the night screaming, “Do you remember me now, asshole?”

From the moment Al tells Robin she’s too close to the case, “Episode Four” is tightly tethered to pulp convention. She goes reckless cop on Sarge. Al demands her badge and gun in a battle of one-shots. She keeps investigating Tui’s disappearance and all the other skeletons in Queenstown’s closet on her own. But the stabbing is also a masculine move, penetration, a claim for power, and it happens in the same episode Johnno is deprived of power, locked in a cage, helplessly forced to watch an assault on his date. In an episode where the female cop is getting so emotional that she gets lost in a cut from a placid golden forest to a windy stone shore, Robin and Johnno violate the show’s rigid gender divide.

So does Ian Fellows, the pathologist who calls Robin at her home, rescues her from the episode-long reminiscence of a horrific night. He’s recommended three cases that Al has refused to pursue: Bob Platt, Wolfgang Zanic, and a girl named April Stephens who was run over on a lake-view road with traces of cocaine in her vagina. “I had a daughter who overdosed, so for me, it’s emotional,” he says. For Robin, too.

Stray observations:

Thanks to Scott for letting me sub this week.

·         Turns out Zanic couldn’t be Tui’s rapist because he was out of town for dental surgery the month she got pregnant.

·         Loved the early abstract shot of Moss’ face barely perceptible in the clouds reflected on her car door.

·         Jamie, the bone collector, is the latest red herring. He runs through the woods, kayaks out to somewhere, and buries a trash bag in the ground. In his interview with Robin, he reveals that he has also completed the barista course. Also of note: Johnno has been tracking the use of the kayak with a string. 

·         In another powerhouse moment between Elisabeth Moss and Robyn Nevin, Robin tells her mother, “I don’t give a shit if Sarge is walking around with a grubby bandage on. I hope he is awake and in fucking pain. Always!” “Me, too. Always.”

“Episode Five” | Top Of The Lake | TV Club | TV | The A.V. Club  Brandon Nowalk

After last week’s muscular focus, “Episode Five” scatters in the wind, and directors Garth Davis and Jane Campion just sort of watch, the authorial GJ hiding behind blank stares and not-so-cryptic expressions. A lot happens, actually. Johnno comes clean to Robin. Robin gets reinstated. Al proposes to her. Jude visits GJ. Jude dies, even, and Tui lives. It’s all very matter-of-fact, nothing given undue prominence outside of the exploitation cinema flashbacks and the cliffhanger. What stands out most is the accidental surprise that it’s been two months since Tui disappeared. By the end, you’d be forgiven for forgetting the episode even aired.

With so little passion, the episode’s jolts of violence easily become this chunk’s main theme. But first Robin says to Johnno, “I want to know the bad thing you were going to tell me.” A seven-hour marathon might not feel so haphazard, but threads like this and Robin’s work status feel arbitrarily manipulated in episodic form. Why bench Robin if she’s just going to come back to work next week? Johnno takes us back to that night, to the practically black-and-white scene of a brutal rape, scored by a barking dog and a screaming woman and shot with maximum jitter. Johnno’s confession is that he was let out of the dog cage but didn’t do anything to help her.

One of the rapists uses his tie as a leash to walk him like a dog, throws him to the ground, and taunts him into submission. It plays like a humorless rendition of Roman Polanski’s Cul-de-sac, which is all about gender and power. Immediately after confessing to an eminently reasonable Robin, Johnno exiles Sarge in the same way. He grabs him by the throat, knocks him to the ground, and makes Sarge fear him enough to obey him. Last week, I observed that all the men on Top Of The Lake are united by power. No wonder so much of the violence is about domination and submission. It’s not primarily sadism or vengeance or passion that drives all the violence on Top Of The Lake but a need to control.

The Johnno scene also illustrates the repetition of violence, the learned behavior of patriarchal abuse. It recalls Al’s line about rounding up the rapists and teaching them a lesson their fathers failed to. Instead of legally prosecuting them, Al and Matt and some others physically assaulted the guys explicitly as a means of behavioral modificiation. They were trying to teach them. With that in mind, it’s somewhat less surprising than it would have been to see Al take over Robin’s interrogation of Jamie with a prison experiment. He pulls Jamie’s chair out from under him, forces him to go through the motions of making his mother a cup of tea, and slaps him upside the head repeatedly. He must be really impressed with himself that all it took was a position of maximum authority, a much bigger body, and a lot of physical coercion to get Jamie to sort of respond. It’s like he’s spanking a puppy.

When Robin challenges him, Al denies that things got overheated. “Absolutely not. I nudged him. It’s how men relate to each other. It’s how they work with kids who have got no dads, an older male teaches an arrogant little prick some respect. He’s not gonna steal and hand out this yes/no shit.” There are two other striking instances of violence in “Episode Five”: Al flagellates himself again, and Jamie bangs his head into the wall. One wonders, especially given the Jamie-Tui connection, whether the self-punishment is also a learned behavior. Regardless, the episode recalls Michael Haneke’s The White Ribbon, which seeks to explain “some things that happened in this country” with a story of domineering fathers who beat and manipulate their children when some mysterious accidents happen in late Weimar Germany. Not to put too fine a point on it, but the “things that happened” were those children growing up to be Nazis. Authoritarianism starts at home.

Robin and Jamie’s mother stand up against that violence. Robin’s credentials and authority and relationship with Matt is enough to call him off, but Jamie’s mother has to physically embrace Jamie to keep him from hurting himself. Eventually, he returns the hug. In a show about details instead of events, that’s huge.

Everything else can probably be summed up as strange bedfellows, two disparate characters meeting, mostly to the good. Jude’s visit to GJ actually brings out some compassion. Not in the advice, although it’s comforting: “You’re not going to experience this death of yours. He will.” She prescribes heroin instead of morphine. “In nature, there is no death, just a reshuffling of atoms.” No, what’s most moving is that GJ volunteers comfort instead of waiting for Jude to ask her questions. She reaches out, interacts, gets down on this earthly plane with the rest of the women in Paradise. Later, Jude meets Johnno and could not be more uncomfortable with her daughter’s social arrangements. She warns Robin to cut ties, and Robin acquiesces. Maybe it’s superstition, maybe it’s lingering GJ, or maybe it’s Robin suggesting that Johnno signaled the rapists in the truck that night, but suddenly Johnno doesn’t seem like such a good match. Lucy Lawless’ Caroline Platt, widow of the realtor in the boating accident, meets Robin and offers Bob’s computer if it will help her investigation. The final surprise encounter is the ending. Jamie ransacks his house, kayaks across the lake, dumps his garbage bags on the ground, and makes bird calls. Suddenly, Tui rushes out, rips open a bag, and starts eating. Presumably he’s been helping her the whole time, but it’s not completely clear. He doesn’t say anything when he sees her, and she doesn’t acknowledge him at all. It’s such a manufactured cliffhanger I wonder if it’s even noticeable in marathon form.

Stray observations:

  • As Johnno evicts Sarge from his trailer park, one female neighbor applauds.
  • There’s never an official explanation for why Al reinstates Robin, but the editing suggests it’s because a journalist is making him look bad?
  • It might be nothing, but part of the reason “Episode Five” feels blank is that men keep changing the subject. While Robin doggedly pursues the subjects of Tui and April and demands Johnno finish his story, the journalist gets distracted by the cafe and Al pivots to Robin’s lack of furniture.
  • Maybe the accusation is ridiculous on its face, but the fact that Johnno refuses to say that he didn’t signal the truck is troubling. On the other hand, no amount of magical jump cuts can redeem such a fake-seeming fight.
  • An act of violence that isn’t motivated by domination: The peeping tom who slashes Johnno.
  • A great scene follows, and not just because Johnno is reduced to a mere towel. Johnno sits naked in a shipping container, restrained out of necessity (he needs medical attention), surrounded by women talking frankly about sex and implicitly about his sexuality.
  • When Jamie is arrested, he has a bottle of roofies on him. Yikes.


“Episode Six”/“Episode Seven” | Top Of The Lake | TV ... - The AV Club  Brandon Nowalk

With just an hour to go in Top Of The Lake, answers are finally, tantalizingly close. So why is it still so disquieting? Robin has some hacker friends investigate Bob Platt’s computer, and inside a ZIP folder are pictures of, well, something nefarious. Robin looks at, like, three pictures in a folder of many before the editing takes us away in typical Top Of The Lake fashion. If Robin gets any clues from Bob’s computer, the audience certainly doesn’t. There’s definitely a deer head in there, though, like the one in Al’s office, like the one in Matt’s dining area, like the one at the dance, the list goes on. That dead animal trophy almost has the connotations of a Lars Von Trier movie.

Speaking of Al, the more he protests his innocence the night Robin passed out at his place, the more suspicious he becomes. It doesn’t help that he brings it up out of the blue in a vulnerable place like the tight space between two cars in a parking garage, and it’s almost irredeemable that he does so as a prelude to another romantic proposition. “I didn’t rape you when I could have, so do you wanna go out this weekend?” Johnno may not say once and for all that he had nothing to do with Robin’s rape, but his actions are repeatedly heroic. He rescues Robin by boat, he races the hunters to Tui, he tries to find the man who shot at Robin. But Al is giving out warning signs, not to mention outright offenses, all over the place. He takes Robin boating and then surprises her in the middle of the lake by bringing out Matt, whom he had been hiding. He refuses to take her to shore—this is where Johnno’s boat rescue comes in—and then he sets her up with a one-on-one interview at Matt’s house. Robin is baffling lately, secretly looking into Al’s finances but totally buying this confession idea even after the boat trip. Even Bob Platt can see that Al and Matt are in some kind of cahoots, and that guy went out on a boat with Matt and his sons after cheating him. But back to that night Robin passed out at Al’s, now that you mention it, what was up with that? That Rohypnol is floating around the edges of the story is very unsettling.

At the very least, Jamie wasn’t using Rohypnol to rape women. Johnno chalks up the roofies to adolescent experimentation in the latest skewed outburst of gender politics. But apparently Jamie is not the father of Tui’s child, which is only discovered after he is hounded to his death by Matt’s hunters. At last there’s a solid answer and it’s too late. There’s no comfort in resolution.

That scene is the standout, and not just because the search for Tui has been driving the heft of the miniseries. The sequence begins when Matt’s hunters find the string that leads to Tui’s alarm bell. Tui and Jamie are in her shelter. Tui makes no bones about warning them off, shooting dangerously close to them. But the kids abandon the shelter, the familiar blue hoodie firing at the hunters as the other scrambles up the hill. Robin and Johnno hear the shots. Johnno races directly up and sends Robin to follow the river around. With the minimalism of just people and landscape and the magical geography that bends to the story, it feels mythic. At its best, the whole series does. A dozen shots of figures and agendas racing each other to the top of a mountain later, and Tui slips and falls, sliding down the side of the mountain and then off a ledge. When Robin sees her in free fall, it knocks the wind out of you. When it turns out that Jamie and Tui switched jackets, that Jamie drew the hunters away from Tui and died to protect her, it’s all the more moving.

There’s another interesting fact about Jamie: Turns out he’s gay. His mother implies that that’s a dangerous word ’round these parts, but Jane Campion and Gerard Lee sure took their sweet time complicating the gender structure of Laketop. (Then again, as we’re reminded again with a cut to credits that even Mad Men would blush at, Top Of The Lake is a one-sitting deal, not episodic television. Viewers aren’t necessarily meant to drink in the dregs of heteronormativity for a whole month.) Jamie and Tui are or rather were just friends. Like Robin and Johnno turning the usual gender associations on their ears, when the kids are under attack, look what happens: Tui picks fight, Jamie picks flight. There’s also a fun, albeit foreboding, scene where some friends come visit Tui for her birthday. No weird power structures or practice violence. These kids aren’t adhering to any cycle of violence yet. Maybe there’s a way forward after all.

Stray observations:

·         Matt’s “cleaners” and “accountant” are “reading” Blue Velvet for “their book club.” Top Of The Lake functions partly as a catalog of references to gender-war pop culture.

·         Someone shoots at Robin. Life goes on. Sometimes I really don’t understand this fictional universe.

·         Matt interrupts one of his sons mid-coitus. The other one also sees. The Mitchams are a tight-knit bunch.  

·         Jamie says the man who knocked up Tui is the dark creator who sucks the heart out of people. Then he tells his friends they know who did it. “Wake up.” Hey, it’s more forthcoming than yes/no hands.

·         Jamie also mimes childbirth from the kid’s point of view to show Tui how easy it will be. Just when he becomes my favorite character, he’s gone forever.

·         Jamie’s mother wants to testify against Matt and claims some others will join her. We’ll see.

·         The word “scene” overstates it, but the final scene sets the stage for the ultimate showdown with admirable concision. Robin says her distress code: “‘That’s unacceptable.’ If I say it twice, it means get reinforcements.”

“Episode Seven”

For a while, the last hour of Top Of The Lake actually feels hopeful, which is saying something for an episode that begins with the protagonist learning she’s sleeping with her half-brother. “There is no match for the tremendous intelligence of the body,” GJ says, but look where that got everyone. Robin and Johnno process this information, but before long, they’re racing Matt to Tui. Matt gets there first and runs off with the baby. At the time I wondered if he says, “Kids don’t have kids,” because he believes Tui is biologically incapable of conception or if he’s just in denial. Anyway, he points his rifle at the baby. Johnno points his gun at Matt. And Tui shoots both of them in succession, fatally in the case of her father. Robin holds her in her arms and tells her everything is going to be okay. And it seems like it actually is. Paradise actually seems tranquil for once.

But as they say, all good things must come to a final-act twist. Apparently Al is involved in some child-molestation ring. The barista-program pizza parties, the roofies, it’s so obvious in the end that Robin figures it out staring at the barista pictures like she’s in Veronica Mars season two right down to the rack zoom. She shows up, Matt’s shirt is inside out, he harasses her, she shoots him. Lotta that going around. Mercifully these particular kids just seem drugged so far, not molested. Robin points her gun and her phone at the crime scene and only has to use one.

Top Of The Lake is obnoxiously deterministic. We should probably be grateful Johnno never revealed himself to be into hostel torture, or maybe that’s the subtext. But that’s because the series is more symbolic, and all the roiling themes actually tie into this coup de grace. Al and his buddies pass on the violence to the next generation. Remember what Jamie said about the dark creator who rips out hearts? There is a gender component, even if one of the kids was male. There’s the institutionalization of patriarchy in Al’s badge and the corrupt juvenile-corrections program. And there’s the upsetting solution: violence. Technically Tui acts in defense of her newborn (and she just clips Johnno, who survives), and Robin can likely claim self-defense, as well. But women on Top Of The Lake have two options—fight or flight—and the big heroes pick the former.

Getting past the blindside, the seventh episode foregrounds familial themes of incest and surrogate family. Robin turns out to be Matt’s biological daughter, but Johnno conveniently turns out not to be. Al claims Matt is the father of Tui’s child, too, but guess who has reason to lie about that! There’s evidence Matt is the father, but there’s also his erectile dysfunction, and now there’s another suspect in Al or one of his pals. (In other slightly open questions, it’s pretty obvious now that Al raped Robin that night. The misery of patriarchy is inescapable.) Before Al shows his second face, though, there’s a pretty funny “Go ask your mom” scene that casts him, Robin, and Tui as a happy, little family. Most of the time, though, Robin and Johnno play mom and dad for Tui. Like Robin picking the man who raised her over Matt, you really can choose family.

In the end Robin tries to scrub Al’s blood off her shirt in the lake. At first I rolled my eyes at the cherry on top of the essentialist sundae. The last we see the hero of the gender war, she’s doing laundry. But it’s a complicated image. For one, it represents yet another traumatic period in Robin’s life that will drive her in the future. But there’s a wider implication. Laketop still doesn’t feel safe. Even GJ is fleeing to the opposite side of the planet, fading into the west like Galadriel. Laketop may have lost some authority figures, but those corrupt institutions have training programs with seconds-in-command waiting to take the reins. This will all be passed on. That blood ain’t coming out.

Stray observation:

·         After all that, I’m with GJ. I just want to get away from these crazy bitches.  

A Scandal In Paradise: On “Top Of The Lake” - Los Angeles Review ...  Jen Vafidis from The Los Angeles Review, April 6, 2013


“Top of the Lake”: Like the best crime series, it’s about much more than crime-solving  Willa Paskin from Salon, March 18, 2013


“Top of the Lake's” superb finale -  Willa Paskin from Salon, April 16, 2013


Sundance: Campion's Seven-Hour Top of the Lake -- Vulture  Jada Yuan, January 21, 2013 


Surrender to the Void [Steven Flores]


Cinema Scope [Michael Sicinski]


Slant Magazine [Chris Cabin]


Top of the Lake Is Myth-Mad, But It Gets Under Your Skin  Troy Patterson from Slate, March 18, 2013, also seenhere:  Top of the Lake 


Your Favorite Show Is Too Long - Slate Magazine  David Haglund from Slate, March 18, 2013


Top of the Lake    What was up with Mitcham and Anita's awful trip? by Dan Kois and David Haglund from Slate, March 25, 2013, also seen here:  Top of the Lake review: Elisabeth Moss in Jane Campion's ...


Top of the Lake  Wait, did Detective Sergeant Faramir just roofie Robin? by Dan Kois and June Thomas from Slate, April 1, 2013


Top of the Lake  GJ is like Hunter S. Thompson mixed with Sappho, by Dan Kois and Michelle Dean from Slate, April 9, 2013


'Top Of the Lake' TV Review: Mini-Series Depicts Dark Reality Of Ra  Morgan Davies from Policy Mic, March 19, 2013


Are Miniseries the Future Of Television?  Morgan Davies from Policy Mic, March 26, 2013


'Top of the Lake' is an Engaging Misstep  David Thomson from The New Republic, April 1, 2013


'Top of the Lake' Finale on Sundance: Review by David Thomson ...  David Thomson from The New Republic, April 18, 2013, also seen here:  Paradise Lost


Review: Jane Campion's ' Top of the Lake ' a riveting long-form mystery  Alan Sepinwall from Hit Fix, March 18, 2013


Series finale review: Top of the Lake - HitFix  Alan Sepinwall from Hit Fix, April 15, 2013


[Review] Top of the Lake: Parts 1-3 - The Film Stage  Jared Mobarek


Sundance Curiosities: What is Jane Campion's 'Top of the Lake ...  Alison Willmore from indieWIRE


Inside Jane Campion's New Sundance Thriller “Top of the Lake ...  Jace Lacob from The Daily Beast 


'Top of the Lake,' 'Rectify,' and the evolution of the Sundance ...  Andy Greenwald from Grantland, April 24, 2013


Top of the Lake - | Berlinale | Programme | Programme


'Top of the Lake' will make a splash  Robert Bianco from USA Today


User Reviews from imdb Author: toddg33


Elizabeth Moss and Holly Hunter on Top of the Lake - Vanity Fair  video interview with Elizabeth Moss and Holly Hunter, January 2013


Top of the Lake: Sundance Review - The Hollywood Reporter  Todd McCarthy, also seen here:  Hollywood Reporter [Todd McCarthy]


Variety [Justin Chang]


Top of the Lake - first look review | Film |  Andrew Pulver, February 9, 2013, also seen here:  Guardian [Andrew Pulver]


Jane Campion's 'Top of the Lake' is a multilayered mystery  Ellen Gray from The Philly


‘Top of the Lake’: A slow-building mystery, skillfully told  Hank Steuver from The Washington Post, also seen here:  Sundance Channel's 'Top of the Lake': Out of the gloom, a chilling ... 


'Bates' backstory and 'Top of the Lake'  South Coast Today


In Top of the Lake, Peggy Olson Goes to Hell - - Movies ... - City Pages  Alan Scherstuhl


Get to the Bottom of 'Top of the Lake': New miniseries premieres on ...  Aleksander Chan from The Austin Chronicle


'Top of the Lake' review: depths satisfy - SFGate  Dave Wiegand


'Top of the Lake' star Elisabeth Moss savors miniseries' nuances ...  Jessica Gelt from The LA Times, March 17, 2013


Winter TCA: Elisabeth Moss takes break from ad world to find a missing girl in 'Top of the Lake'  Yvonne Villarreal from The LA Times, January 5, 2013


TV picks for March 18-24: 'Top of the Lake,' 'Phil Spector'  The Chicago Tribune


Pregnant Girl Vanishes, and Story Lines Fork  The New York Times


Top of the Lake - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia


Campos, Antonio


/ HAMMER TO NAIL » Blog Archive » People We Love: Antonio Campos ...   by Antonio Campos from Hammer to Nail, March 17, 2009


'Make-out with Violence' Takes Top Nashville Film Festival Honors ...  Jim Ridley from The Nashville Scene, April 20, 2009


ANTONIO CAMPOS ON AFTERSCHOOL - Filmmaker Magazine | The Magazine ...  Scott Macaulay interview from Filmmaker magazine, November 22, 2008


Afterschool Director Antonio Campos on Absorbing Internet ...  Bilge Ebiri interview from New York magazine, October 2, 2009


'Afterschool''s Antonio Campos: 'Continue to Experiment and Play ...  indieWIRE interview, October 2, 2009



USA  (58 mi)  2005                    US premiere version (34 mi)

User reviews  from imdb Author: Roberto Bentivegna from Los Angeles, CA

I saw this film at the Cannes Film Festival. Firstly, I am surprised that the running time here is listed as 60+ minutes. The cut that I saw, and the cut that won the Cinefondation award, was 34 minutes. Perhaps there's an extended version? Anyway. I didn't think the film was great, and I certainly didn't hate it. It was "okay". I usually have a strong opinion about what I watch, but with "Buy It Now" I looked at it more as a technical piece than anything else. Maybe it's because I knew the story that it was based on quite well (UK girl who sells her virginity on Ebay). To me, this adaptation of the real-life incident is joyless and heavy-going. The vertical framing techniques employed are quite good, as is the soft focus used on the mother and the deliberately slow pacing when Chelsea is waiting for "the man". But it all feels a little self-indulgent and pointless. What is the film trying to say? It looks heavy, and it feels heavy, but surprisingly the after-taste is faint and quick to vanish.

Having said that, the performances are excellent, some of the techniques used are interesting and the "direct cinema" photography is inspired. For what it is- a student film- it's strong.

Time Out London (Ben Walters) review [4/5]

Adolescence has always been a period of self-dramatisation, each fledgling adult the hero of his or her own (usually tragic) tale. Thanks to the digital revolution, with its explosion of accessible DV, blogging, YouTube and the rest, these stories can now be articulated, aestheticised and archived as never before. Antonio Campos’ short, bifurcated experimental piece takes a ‘Blair Witch’ approach to this phenomenon, offering a purportedly genuine record of 16-year-old Chelsea Mangan’s sale of her virginity on eBay. The plan, hatched from the bedroom of the comfortable New York apartment Chelsea shares with her divorced mom, leads to a hotel-room encounter that proves less satisfying than the ‘killing two birds with one stone’ situation she hoped for.

The first half-hour, dubbed ‘Documentary’, is supposedly compiled from video material shot by Mangan (played by Chelsea Logan) for her own reasons as the enterprise unfolds; the second half, ‘Narrative’, presents the same chain of events as drama. I took the latter half to be another faux ‘found’ text, a piece of filmic autobiography made by the 16-year-old character, though there’s no particular evidence for this beyond more wooden performances and the wish-fulfilment quality of the john’s paternal qualities. In any case, the situation is presented in the context of parental neglect, self-abusive insecurity, exploitative consumerism and drug use of both the prescribed and proscribed sort. If film’s social commentary can tend towards the preachy and its dialogue towards glib dramatic irony, Campos establishes a complex nexus of contemporary social and aesthetic concerns with impressive economy and Logan’s double performance is strong.

The Guardian (Peter Bradshaw) review

Antonio Campos's satirical fantasy about a teenage girl putting her virginity for sale on eBay was originally a half-hour short which won the Cinéfondation prize at Cannes in 2005. Now it has been expanded to feature length. This is a ropey 62 minutes, however, making anything other than a DVD rental very poor value for money. And in fact it hasn't really been developed. What we appear to have is the same half-hour piece, preceded by a new 30-minute segment, billed as "documentary" to the "narrative" of the second half, but telling the same story all over again, in a more oblique way, with differences that imply nothing much other than that Campos was unsure how to expand the material. It's almost an object lesson on how enlarging a short film can be messed up.

What a shame it is. Buy It Now has clever and subversive ideas and some shrewd things to say about commercialism, consumerism, alienation and above all the unacknowledged eroticism of peer-to-peer web contact: such as gambling on Betfair, sharing video and music files, and above all buying and selling unwanted stuff on eBay. The fascination of watching the price rise during an auction has an illicit thrill. Downloading pictures of naked people having sex - that's Web Porn 1.0. But buying and selling stuff with anonymous strangers: that's Web Porn 2.0.

Chelsea Logan is a bored teenage girl in New York City, whose parents are separated; her mother is too busy working to make much time for her, and her dad lets her down by not visiting when he says he will. She hangs out with her friends, and does drugs with them in her room, and when she's all alone, indulges in a nasty little vice: Chelsea is a cutter, a self-harmer. But she has a plan to revolutionise her life; sick and tired of having no money to spend on the things she lusts after in magazines, and bored with being a virgin - and furthermore believing her friends' advice that "losing it" is no big deal - Chelsea advertises her virginity on eBay.

Director Antonio Campos appears, mischievously, to have entered this offer on the web for real and filmed the computer screen with its mounting bids from credulous pervs, while his actors improvised around the situation. The actual "delivery" of the goods in a hotel room is filmed very differently in each of the two segments, and the attitude of Chelsea's mother comes out a little differently too.

The grim business of selling sex to a wealthy middle-aged man is in sharp contrast to the prophylaxis of the net, in which transactions can take place quickly and cleanly. It is in this transaction that the true eroticism occurs, an eroticism that relies, paradoxically, on the anonymity and alienation of web contact. A condom is what provides the safety in the case of real sex; in the virtual cyber-world, what is important is a PayPal account, the vital new method of buying and selling with strangers that does not compromise your bank or credit details.

Buy It Now plays elegantly with these contemporary ideas. But what a pity that Antonio Campos could not have found a way to start from scratch and grow and develop his story more satisfyingly.

Shadows on the Wall (Rich Cline) capsule review (Sandro Matosevic) review (Collin Souter) review [5/5] (Erik Childress) review [5/5]


Eye for Film (Jennie Kermode) review [4/5]


Gaydar Nation [Rachael Scott]


Variety (Robert Koehler) review


BBCi - Films  Paul Arendt





USA  (16 mi)  2007

User reviews  from imdb Author: rasecz from United States

The Kirkland's are a well-to-do middle class family. We are introduced to each member by means of dollar values and costs: salaries, education, food, etc. The numbers are overlaid on the frame for each family member.

Preoccupations with money are voiced as the family prepares for dinner. Meanwhile, the ceiling is coming apart. Bits and pieces, a tail of dirt, dropping from above. More dollar costs are presented, this time to fix the ceiling.

The youngest boy, a teenager, seems fed up with what is going on around him. He sets to do something about it, fifteen minutes from now. Why they are the last fifteen will be clear if you see this so-so short.

"THE LAST 15" by Filmmaker Antonio Campos (borderline film) - BFOC ...  seen in its entirety here on YouTube


AFTERSCHOOL                                                     B+                   92

USA  (122 mi)  2008  ‘Scope


Why did I think this was a variant, though stylewise at the complete opposite end of the spectrum, of IGBY GOES DOWN (2002), where teens are lost in the wasteland of parental dysfunction, subject, away from home, to a meaningless existence of utter superficiality at a well respected boarding school in Connecticut?  What could possibly happen here?  This is the kind of prep school that parents start thinking about before pre-school, where they have their children’s lives all planned out for them well in advance, so by the time they get to high school it’s only a matter of course before they’re off to college and dad finds them a job afterwards.  Success is measured by a student’s ability to follow a course others have set for them.  While this may be a common practice on the East coast, this is a stunning abdication of parental responsibilities that at least opens the door, at minimum, for minor catastrophes to occur along the way outside of parental view when kids all alone at such young, tender ages are forced into a sink or swim situation.  At what point did these parents think their kids could fend for themselves, as age-wise they are still immature and not yet ready to make decisions on their own, for if left to their own devices they’ll inevitably make all the wrong kinds of decisions.  This is an extremely truthful portrayal of a situation where no one tells the truth.

And worse, no one takes responsibility, as the absent parents are too rich and/or busy to be bothered with actually being parents and the school institution itself covers up its own dirty laundry so both hide under the pretense of some non-existent adult moral authority, as if they give a damn, while actually ignoring the kids and completely washing their hands in the event things go wrong, blaming the students themselves for any and all wrongdoing, whether it be grades or behavior issues.  This is a glum portrait of moody, parentless kids.    


Our journey through the classrooms, hallways, lunchrooms, dormitory rooms and the rest is guided by Rob (Ezra Miller), an overly detached, loner kid glued to his Internet screen, whose geek popularity, what little there is, is based on his ability to find cool stuff on the Internet.  To this end he’s discovered porn, particularly one website ( that veers into blatantly sadistic treatment of women that he finds sexually arousing.  But he also scans war images, school fights, or various other stupid stuff he can find on YouTube.  His roommate Dave (Jeremy Allen White) sells dope on the side and bullies and ridicules Rob with ease, also doing the same at lunch to some poor sap who sits there and takes it day after day without so much as uttering a word in defense.  To our amazement, Dave is considered his best friend at school.  Rob calls his mother and wants to come home, telling her he’s miserable, but she tells him to stick it out, rationalizing that this friend Dave could really be helpful to her son, but if things get worse she’ll have some medicine prescribed.  At school, we see a line of kids waiting for their meds from the school nurse.  To his credit, Rob isn’t one of them.  But we see what he sees, which is looking under the girl’s skirts from the bottom of the stairs, or the multitude of bare legs on display, the tight fitting clothes around the butt, and the occasional glimpse down a woman’s cleavage.  Rob is a sophomore who dreams about sex night and day. 


At this school, students are required to take an afterschool elective, whether it be sports or something else.  Rob chooses the Video Club, where he’s given a video camera and urged to film anything around the school grounds, including the hallways.  This transition from passive viewer to active filmmaker is a revelatory moment, as the rest of the film has the eerie and amateurish feel as if it’s all part of Rob’s movie, which gives this an otherworldly, almost science fiction feel.  As he sets up an empty corridor shot from a stairway, two girls burst through the door, apparently severely injured, as blood is squirting onto the floor.  One girl lays inert, apparently already stopped breathing, while Rob curiously investigates and actually cradles the other girl until she dies shortly afterwards in his arms, all caught on tape, including the aftermath of students and teachers as they create a mob scene around the incident.  Afterwards, he’s fairly mum about the incident, even less forthcoming than his usual barely audible mumble, where it turns out the girls died from ingesting cocaine mixed with excessive amounts of strychnine, but he does take advantage of the emotional vulnerability of one of the girls, Amy (Addison Timlin), as their open discussion to each other about sex actually leads to their first incident, which you’d think would be a breakthrough.  But instead he tells his roommate, who immediately steals his girl, making him even more miserable, especially since he suspects his roommate sold the tainted drugs that killed the girls.  While they send him to the school shrink (Gary Wilmes), the school is sympathetic so long as they think he’s distraught from the school deaths, but aren’t at all interested in what’s really eating at him.  And therein lies the theme of the film, as the teachers (stand-ins for the parents) couldn’t be more clueless, as they never have a frank or honest discussion with any of the kids, never know what’s really going on, as their discussions are more centered on the school’s liability, and are fooled into believing the most popular kids are the most successful kids, while the unhappy kids who may be the smartest remain borderline in their eyes.  It’s the school itself that devises this social hierarchy of turning out kids the way they think breeds success.  Yet behind the scenes, kids routinely buy and sell their homework, ingest alcohol and drugs, and engage in unhindered sexual activity, all without ever discussing any of these issues with anyone except other kids.    


The school decides to honor the two seniors, which includes making a school video in their memory, a set of twins who were probably the two most popular girls in school, but both were party girls heavily into drug use, which was overlooked for years as their parents were heavy money donors.  Rob and Amy were gathering home movie pictures, but Rob, perhaps the person least qualified to make this film, as he has fantasized about them without ever knowing them, ends up completing it on his own, something of an art film about the loneliness and alienation of youth, which the principal (Michael Stuhlbarg) suggests is the worst thing he’s ever seen, immediately ordering it fixed.  When we see the sappy version that plays over the school assembly, we realize what an unadulterated pack of lies this re-edited Hallmark card version is, and these videos could stand for the completely opposite threads of reality that exist between the kids and the adults.  I love the play on the two memorial tributes, very reminiscent of Bobcat Goldthwait’s mockingly derisive view of the same in his savagely black satire WORLD’S GREATEST DAD (2009).  Campos uses a near documentary style for his film which includes frequent long takes where events unfold in real time without ever offering comment on what we’re seeing, which could just as easily be footage Rob watches on YouTube, but his stark choice of material reveals an excellent job writing, directing, and especially editing his film.  It’s an extremely provocative work using humorous dark satire which levels to near zero any positive impact from adults, teachers or parents, and also suggests the nefarious influence of cell phone cameras to capture supposedly private, unguarded moments in our lives, immediately placing them on YouTube without proper context, all of which can do irreparable harm, especially to any individual being targeted.  It’s a world out of control with no moral center that no one as yet understands, where the YouTube reality is all that matters, and the actual people being depicted onscreen mean absolutely nothing.              


CINE-FILE: Cine-List  Michael King

With its prep school setting and dead-eyed violence, Antonio Campos' AFTERSCHOOL suggests a heavily narcotized take on Lindsay Anderson's IF... Embodying all of Mick Travers's unfocused rage with none of his charisma, Rob's (Ezra Miller) social skills have been blunted by prescription meds and streaming pornography. Already a three-time Cannes veteran at 25, Campos has a better handle on how young people communicate than indie paterfamilias Gus Van Sant (his closest correlate), and his slow-burn takes ensure more awkward silences than actual lines. The camerawork is often as disconnected from the action as the protagonists: characters wander off into the anamorphic margins, and rigidly fixed pans casually lop off actors' heads rather than tilt up. Rob witnesses the overdose of a set of popular twins, allowing Campos to divide his time between the far reaches of adolescent alienation and the frenzied overreaction that isolated traumas often spark in stunned bureaucracies. (2008, 107 min, 35mm)

The Onion A.V. Club review [A-]  Scott Tobias

In Afterschool, a disquieting, remarkably controlled first feature by 25-year-old writer-director Antonio Campos, young people live their lives at a shallow focal distance—roughly the foot between their nose and the computer monitor in front of them. From here, Campos’ hero, a baby-faced boarding-school freshman played by Ezra Miller, consumes a steady diet of YouTube clips (from giggling babies and piano-playing cats to bloody brawls and Iraq footage) and live feeds from Campos frequently trains his telephoto lens on Miller in extreme close-up, with the rest of the world out of focus, which puts this confused young man in a profoundly lonely, alienating place. And the dynamics of high school don’t help: Social hierarchies are heavily enforced at his elite East Coast school, and being a shy, insecure first-year student only serves to drive Miller deeper into his murky headspace.

Owing debts to early Atom Egoyan, Frederick Wiseman’s High School (Campos names a character “Mr. Wiseman”), Gus Van Sant’s Elephant, and Michael Haneke (especially Benny’s Video), Afterschool wears its many influences on its sleeve, but it’s very much a movie of the moment. The passing of time and the evolution of technology may give it an expiration date, but more likely, Campos’ film stands to be an essential document of what it was like to be a young person in the late ’00s. A frighteningly opaque vessel of teenage amorality, Miller would stay in his dorm-room forever, were he not obligated to participate in an after-school program. Since he isn’t sporting type, he involves himself in a video-production club, and gets assigned to take B-roll footage around campus. While filming a stairwell, Miller catches footage of twin girls’ shocking deaths from tainted drugs.

The aftermath of the tragedy leads Miller to some disturbing places, not least the questionable assignment to make a memorial video for two girls he never really knew—and who almost certainly wouldn’t have given him the time of day. Between the video clips, the overlapping dialogue effects, the odd framing, and the alternating gambits of suffocating close-ups and surveillance-cam pans, Afterschool has been aestheticized within an inch of its life. But it’s also a rigorously thought-through, precocious first effort that finds Campos using every cinematic means at his disposal to suggest the vacant conscience of a kid who experiences the world in bite-sized fragments.

Jigsaw Lounge / Tribune [Neil Young]

This is quite a week for American enfants terribles, old and new. Falling firmly into the latter category is Antonio Campos, a New Yorker of Brazilian/Italian parentage who single-handedly wrote, directed and edited his debut feature Afterschool at 23 (he's now 25). Auteurs are getting younger these days, of course: Quebecois prodigy Xavier Dolan was 19 when he directed, wrote, produced and starred in I Killed My Mother, a prize-winner at Cannes in May, while Iranian 21-year-old from Hana Makhmalbaf debuted at 15 with Joy of Madness (2003). As Francis Ford Coppola - a sometime precocious wunderkind himself - famously put it, "One day some little fat girl in Ohio is going to be the new Mozart."  

Indeed, one of America's leading film-critics, Mike D'Angelo, ranks Afterschool his number three film of the decade, ahead of works by Lars Von Trier, Carlos Reygadas, David Mamet and Wong Kar-Wai: "Sorrowfully observing the quest for something real in a terrain of orchestrated lies, Afterschool never once flinches. This is how we live."  

While respecting D'Angelo's verdicts, I can't endorse his encomium this time. From my perspective Afterschool -  in which Robert (Ezra Miller), a troubled teenager at a fancy prep school, happens to catch on camera the drug-related death of two pupils while working on a video-project -  is a classic example of debutant-overreach.   

Campos deserves credit for tackling major issues of contemporary American society - most notably the way (also explored by Michael Haneke's Hidden) that technology is producing a de-sensitised generation which experiences life at one or two removes. But the unsettling, bracingly glacial poise of his direction is repeatedly let down by some basic, distracting lapses in storytelling logic and plausibility. In addition, there's something score-settling and lazy - reactionary, even - about the way his script presents the school's teachers ("you're inherently good kids") and pastoral-care counsellors ("we can always do medication") as sanctimonious, well-meaning, hopelessly ineffectual liberal boobs.   

It's hard enough to direct a debut film at any age - but Afterschool gives the impression that Campos could have profited from greater outside help during script-development, and it would probably have been a good idea if he'd handed over editing-duties to more experienced set of hands. Interesting that the major area of responsibility which he did delegate to a collaborator is the cinematography - and first-timer Jody Lee Lipes (now 27) emerges as the name to watch from Afterschool.   

His limpid widescreen images here balance on the tricky edge between hyper-realism and hallucinatory intensity - and his visually superb follow-up, artworld documentary Brock Enright - Good Times Will Never Be the Same (which Lipes also directed), strengthens the suspicion that he's a truly outstanding "DoP"in the making.

NYFF '08  Mike D’Angelo

[Remember in Mulholland Dr. when that creepy dude points at the headshot and says, flatly, "This is the girl"? Try to imagine me heavier and much more intimidating as I tell you with equally unshakable certitude: This is the film. All of 23 years old at the time of shooting, Campos tackles head-on the key subject of the early 21st century, viz. mediation, and delivers the first movie I've seen that seems to recognize how drastically the (developed) world has changed in just the last several years, and the extent to which we're now both starved for authenticity and dedicated to pretense. What's more, he does so with a formal control and ingenuity that's nothing short of breathtaking, especially for a neophyte. Switching deftly back and forth between panoramic widescreen celluloid and cramped, windowboxed consumer video, Afterschool deliberately blurs the line between the two: Not only are the "objective" shots brilliantly artless, forever trained on the wrong spot or cutting someone in half at the edge of the frame, but much of the video imagery -- most especially Rob's A/V project, which abruptly turns from mundane B-roll into something so horrifying it can barely be processed, much less resolved -- evinces the chilly neutrality of Haneke or the Asian master-shot school. (And then there are shots that are just plain stunning, with D.P. Jody Lee Lipes working expressionist miracles via the tonal contrast between foreground clarity and backgrounds so magnificently blurred they resemble lost Monets.) Within this unique, semi-alienating worldview, Campos constructs a portrait of Generation YouTube (set here in high school, appropriately, but encompassing all ages) that's somehow at once compassionate and merciless -- which is to say, utterly true. The scene of Rob tentatively applying lessons learned from gonzo porn on new girlfriend Amy does in just a handful of seconds what Larry Clark spent half an hour belaboring in his Destricted short, and is beautifully counterweighted by his (Rob's) later act of sweet generosity in giving Amy his shirt to mop up the post-coital blood. Key moments in the characters' lives wind up scrutinized on the net hours later -- or they find "alternate takes" of events they themselves recorded, captured by persons unknown with ethical imperatives unrecognized. Even minor details cut clean: When Rob calls his mother to tell her he's not fitting in, her response is so credibly concerned-yet-destructive that it made me annoyed at the equivalent moment in Wendy and Lucy all over again. And while at first I thought Campos had erred in continuing beyond the re-edited memorial video, his actual ending will haunt me as long as it haunts Rob. Sorrowfully observing the quest for something real in a terrain of orchestrated lies, Afterschool never once flinches. This is how we live.]

[ADDENDUM, THE NEXT DAY: Like most great films, this one appears to be widely misunderstood. That others don't care for it is fine by me, and not wholly unexpected given its outsized formal and thematic ambition. But it does grate a bit when folks don't seem to recognize what Campos is doing, even as they berate him in the same breath for being overly explicit. And I want to address some of this stuff while my memory is still fresh, even though doing so requires a degree of specificity that I'd rather not inflict on those who haven't seen it (i.e., almost everyone). Please, come back to the next paragraph post-viewing.

You too Waz.

Okay. Now, take this gibe from Slant's Ed Gonzalez, which was echoed in a brief conversation I had today with Aaron Hillis: "Robert (Ezra Miller) joins the new-to-the-curriculum AV club, fucks around with his hottie partner, Amy (Addison Timlin), choking her just like that chick he likes so much (it's amazing what kids pick up on these days -- and so quickly too!)." That sarcastic parenthetical completely ignores this disturbing moment's actual import, which is nowhere near as facile as Gonzalez suggests...and while Aaron merely felt (if I understood him correctly) that showing Rob choking Amy was overkill, he's equally mistaken. The point here is not (just) that Rob is aping behavior he's seen in a porn video -- though, as I said above, it does beat hell out of the (inexplicably much-admired) Larry Clark short in that tiny respect. For this deeply confused kid, the throttling is not just some random perversion he's eager to assay on anything suitably nubile. It's an attempt to cut through the bullshit. When we initially see her, "Cherry Dee" is clearly hiding behind a persona, like most porn actors; it's almost painfully evident that she's performing for the camera, doing her best to fulfill male-derived stereotypes of female sexuality. It's only when her unseen interrogator grabs her by the throat that she drops the facade and we get a brief glimpse of the actual scared-shitless girl beneath the manufactured pout and salacious come-ons. That is what Rob is responding to and attempting to replicate. He doesn't choke Amy during their (amazingly credible and virtually unseen) first kiss, when both seem to have forgotten the camera -- he does it at a moment when Amy is clearly performing, after he's seen her demeanor abruptly change. It's his painfully awkward attempt to make her more real. That's what the entire film is about, and if I have a serious quibble it's that there's a scene in which Campos explicitly tells us that's what the film is about, having Rob explain to the guidance counselor what he finds so compelling about found video. You'd think that would clear up any possible confusion. Apparently not.]

User reviews  from imdb Author: Chris Knipp from Berkeley, California

The 24-year-old Campos has been winning prizes for his short films for the past eight years; started film-making at thirteen and completed his first short film at seventeen; has been a Presidential Scholar; and wrote the script for this film at the Cannes Residence in Paris in fall 2006. It premiered at the 2008 Cannes Un Certain Regard series. Campos, who was a scholarship student at an exclusive international school himself and then went to study film at NYU, has been rejected from many festivals, but Cannes has led him to the NYFF. He has a group of friends and associates from NYU, and has founded Borderline Films. (See the interview "Filmstock: Antonio Campos 'After School'" on PlumTV.)

'Afterschool,' which speaks of a boy and girl in a fancy East Coas prep school video club, of the boy's roommate, and the death of twin Alpha Girl classmates, is a film of and about the YouTube generation. It begins with Rob (Ezra Miller) watching an online porn site called "Nasty Cum Holes" (or something like that) in which a man, unseen, is talking dirty to a young prostitute. Rob is in his dorm room, which he shares with Dave (Jeremy Allen White), who deals drugs. The video club links him with Amy (Addison Timlin), with whom he loses his virginity. While ostensibly making a sort of promotional video for the school he is shooting a hallway and stairway and all of a sudden two twin girls, the most admired in the school as it happens, appear overdosing. Robert rushes down the hall to them and the camera continues to watch as he sits on the floor with them as they die. Links between all this and Michael Haneke's 'Caché' and Van Sant's 'Elephant' are almost too obvious to mention.

In what follows there is a lot that shows the hypocrisy and confusion of the teachers, the headmaster, and the kids. Rob is so full of emotion throughout the entire film that he finds himself almost completely shut down. Mr. Wiseman the therapist or counselor (Lee Wilkof) succeeds in getting him to open up a tiny bit by trading obscene insults with him. (Campos' admiration for Frederick Wiseman's 'High School' led him to pay homage with the character's name.) A lot of 'Afterschool' is seen either as a video camera (or even a cell phone camera) see it, or as Rob sees it. When his lit teacher is talking about 'Hamlet,' he is watching her crotch, legs, and cleavage and that's what the camera sees. At other times the camera is fixed and one speaker is cut out of the picture, or you see only the edge of his head. Campos is not of the shaky, hand-held school of realism. His evocation of the sensibility of his young characters goes deeper than that. When kids today see something like a girlfight (or a boyfight) at school, somebody films it, and when it's filmed it's going to wind up on the Internet. There's a girlfight Rob and his roommate watch on the Web and then they're in a boyfight with each other in which Rob lets out his sudden pent up anger. Maybe his roommate is guilty in the twin girls' death. But as the school headmaster somewhat facilely says, maybe they all are. A wave of repression follows the incident--perhaps evoking the aftermath of 9/11, which Campos interchanged with the girls' death to get kids' reaction shots.

Campos likes moments that make us and himself uncomfortable, starting with the opening porn video, but continuing with Rob's experience and the world seen through his eyes. (Campos made a short film in which a young girl sells her virginity on eBay and loses it for real on camera to an older man.) Rob's safety is continually compromised and his emotions are uncertain. He doesn't know who he is, and neither does the filmmaker. Rob is a cleancut, even beautiful, boy, but he is almost clinically shut down--not an unusual state for a male teenager, maybe even more likely in a privileged setting like a New England prep school.

Rob and Amy are assigned the task of making a 'memorial film' about the dead twins. However the film he makes is too abstract, existential, ironic and just plain crude to be acceptable. When his supervisor sees it he thinks it's meant to be a mean joke. Later a more sweetened up and conventional version of the film is shown to the whole school, which we also see. Altering and re-editing reality is a continual theme of 'Afterschool.' As Deborah Young of 'Hollywood Reporter' writes, 'Afterschool' "is a sophisticated stylistic exercise too rarefied for wide audiences, but earmarked for critical kudos." It may seem in the watching more crude than it is. The cobbled-together vernacular images are clumsy, but the filmmaker is supple, deft, and sophisticated technically and bold intellectually--still-beyond his years. He has also captured a world he himself knows personally with rather stunning accuracy.

(Note: I am not sure of all the characters' names and may have got some identifications wrong here.)

Eye for Film (Jeff Robson) review [4/5]
Afterschool (2009) Directed by Antonio Campos  A.A. Dowd from In Review Online
Salon (Andrew O'Hehir) review (Alexander Zalben) review [3.5/5]
Afterschool  Michael Sicinski from The Academic Hack
Filmbrain [Andrew Grant]  Like Ana Karina’s Sweater
The House Next Door [Vadim Rizov] [Sam Adams]
Slant Magazine review  Ed Gonzalez
Village Voice (J. Hoberman) review
Electric Sheep Magazine  Mark Stafford
Hammer to Nail [Brandon Harris]
DVD Times  Noel Megahey
Screenjabber review  Toby Weidmann
Gone Cinema Poaching: Antonio Campos's Afterschool  Glenn Heath Jr.
Fringe Report  John Park
not coming to a theater near you review  Stephen Snart
Pajiba (Brian Prisco) review
The Village Voice [Anthony Kaufman]
TrustMovies: Antonio Campos' AFTERSCHOOL opens via IFC, after a ...  James van Mannen from Trust Movies
Afterschool   Howard Feinstein at Cannes from Screendaily
Boxoffice Magazine review  Cole Hornaday
The L Magazine [Henry Stewart]
Cinema de Merde [Scott Telek]
CANNES '08 NOTEBOOK | Auteur Fatigue, "Gomorra" Pops and Wayward Youths  Anthony Kaufman at Cannes from indieWIRE
Floatation Suite (Nick Seacroft)
Lessons of Darkness [Nick Schager] (Alex Riviello) review review  Stephen Tanzer
Antonio Campos's Afterschool: Gossip Girl For Those Who Don't Know ...  Benjamin Strong from The Village Voice, October 3, 2008
Entertainment Weekly review [B+]  Lisa Schwarzbaum
The Hollywood Reporter review  Deborah Young at Cannes
Channel 4 Film
Variety (Justin Chang) review
Time Out London (David Jenkins) review [4/5]
Time Out New York (Nicolas Rapold) review [1/5]
Afterschool | Film review | Film | The Guardian  Peter Bradshaw, August 20, 2009
The Daily Telegraph review [3/5]  Tim Robey [Nicholas Barber]
The Independent (Anthony Quinn) review [3/5]
Chicago Tribune (Alexis L. Loinaz) review
Dennis Lim  Young and Out to Redefine What’s Real, by Dennis Lim from The New York Times, October 3, 2008
Movie Review - Afterschool - Camera Lingers Near Another Lost Boy ...  Neil Genzlinger from The New York Times, October 2, 2009


SIMON KILLER                                                       No Rating

USA  (105 mi)  2012


An American film set in Paris, the follow up to AFTERSCHOOL (2008), where the print received did *NOT* have French subtitles, due to an error on the part of the filmmaker who sent the wrong copy of his film.  As more than half the film is in French, this is a major liability, so much so that the film cannot even be graded or reviewed.  While the film has a strong stylistic sense, once more favoring long shots, this time following the lead character walking down the crowded streets of Paris instead of following students in his last film through the interior school hallways, where the victims of his stalking can be seen just out of focus.  Lead actor Brady Corbet is excellent as Simon, a professional liar, con man, stalker, and psycho killer, just an all around stand up guy who like Cagney in White Heat (1949), is a psychopath with mother issues.  While he continually blends into the surface, finding ways to con his way into people’s lives, his violent meltdowns have a humorous edge. 


The look of the film, shot by Joe Anderson who was assistant camera in the last film, is terrific, while the aggressive music is even better, showing an edgy side of this character where females seem drawn to him.  As this is a tense and suspenseful psychological thriller, much of what’s left out are the interior thoughts and psychological motivations of the characters, absolutely essential in a film like this.  Much of the violent action happens just offscreen, where instead plenty of sex is shown, as this character seems to have a rabid sexual appetite, where most of the film is, in fact, hopping from bed to bed.  But there are other threatening gestures, blackmail for instance, that make no sense without clarifying subtitles, also the backstories of several of the characters are missing.  One of the film’s highlights, however, is hearing Simon explain on several occasions what he studied in school.  Without understanding most of the dialogue, this instead plays out much like Godard’s intentionally left untranslated American version of his latest movie Film Socialisme (2010), as too much of what’s needed is left incomprehensible. 

Noel Murray

Antonio Campos’ debut feature Afterschool was one seriously upsetting film, telling the story of an alienated boarding school student with such intimate subjectivity that the audience didn’t realize until it was too late just how messed up this kid was. CamposSimon Killer takes a similar approach, subjectivity-wise. The hero, played by Brady Corbet, is a recent college grad who takes a trip to Paris to try and recover from a recent break-up, and as he mopes around the city, failing to meet people and even having trouble masturbating without some difficulty, it’s easy for the audience to identify with this fumbling sad sack. Then Simon befriends a local prostitute, and Campos gradually edges the rug out from under us.

I’ll be frank: there’s nothing all that novel about a movie that asks us to feel compassion for a protagonist who turns out to be batty. In fact, Campos did just that with Afterschool, and in a way that was more visually inventive than Simon Killer. (This movie leans heavy on the back-of-the-head follow-shot, which has become an indie cliché.) But that doesn’t mean the film is devoid of formal interest. Campos makes a big deal about how Simon majored in neuroscience, with an emphasis on the connection between the eye and brain, and Campos throws in the occasional strobe effect or piece of peripheral information to underscore the way Simon sees the world. But he does just as much with the sound design—as Simon seems to make use of loud noises to drive out the distractions in his head—and the characters also take frequent notice of how things smell or taste or feel. What’s most effective about Simon Killer is that like Martha Marcy May Marlene (whose director Sean Durkin co-produced this film), this movie is a sensual experience that asks us to question our senses. It takes the all-too-common feelings of loneliness and disorientation and show in disturbing detail how that can shade into madness.

They Live by Night [Bilge Ebiri]

Antonio Campos’s debut feature Afterschool was one of my favorite films of 2008, so I had very high hopes for his follow-up Simon Killer. And while the style is still distinctly his, the new film plays in part like the opposite of the earlier. Whereas Afterschool was heavily structured, with a downright intricate script, Simon seems deliberately disjointed, almost improvised. Whereas Afterschool’s central character was almost catatonically passive, Simon’s protagonist is intensely there, alive and fierce in his tightly-wound little way. And while actors seemed almost like an afterthought in Afterschool (the camera so often wanted to turn away from them), Simon practically hinges on the grand gestures of performance. It may not be as successful as Afterschool, but it feels rawer, more personal – a quality enhanced by its curiously unformed nature.

In that sense, the central attraction in Simon Killer isn’t so much Campos the budding auteur but rather Brady Corbet’s deceptively complex performance as a young American visiting France after a recent break-up with a long-term girlfriend. Simon meets up with a young, beautiful prostitute (Mati Diop) and enters into a physical, surprisingly emotionally open relationship with her. But he’s a bit of a rattlesnake. He tells little lies, then big lies, and soon enough we realize he’s become something of a monster. Corbet thus has to give a performance that hinges on two almost opposite modes of being: He’s both inward – repressed, closed-off, even scheming – and yet also intensely physical. Simon is both broken boy and desperate, driven animal; by the end, you want to think that the former mode is just an act but the character still believes himself, even if we no longer do.

Corbet is something to behold, even if the movie, packed though it is with lovely moments, isn’t entirely successful.  Campos has a very precise style that needs the governing framework of a tight structure (as in Afterschool), and this is where Simon sometimes loses out. The film drifts, perhaps by design but not always to its benefit. Campos’s images have a brittle coolness that makes them feel like pieces of a puzzle; unlike Fassbinder or Denis, they don’t drift well. He’s more in the Kubrick vein, where everything feels deliberate, like it’s pushing towards something greater, like it’s all part of a plan. In Simon Killer, the plan doesn't always feel like it's entirely there.

The House Next Door [Michal Oleszczyk]

Antonio Campos's much-awaited second feature, while less clear-cut than his supremely affectless debut Afterschool, is just about as unsettling. An American-in-Paris story of sorts, it follows a slow but acute mental unraveling of the eponymous character (played by the film's co-screenwriter, Brady Corbet) as he seeks a post-breakup consolation in the "city of love." The Paris of the movie, intermittently respectable and seedy, becomes a scene for Simon's desperate pursuit of affection, which gradually turns more and more insidious and scary.

The opening sections (redolent somehow of Sofia Coppola's much gentler universe) offer some beautifully rendered stretches of epic ennui, with Simon's self-avowed pursuit of "doing absolutely nothing" slowly curdling into a disturbing maze of near-psychotic self-delusion. As Campos coolly multiplies discomfiting narrative ripples that make us question Simon's credibility, then his sanity, Corbet goes from cutely absent-minded to disheveled to plain cuckoo with fearful precision. Given that the whole film plays with the notion of false appearances, it makes perfect, if a tad too symmetrical, sense that Simon's alleged profession has something to do with studying "the relationship between the eye and the brain."

The main character's bipolar personality is literalized by two sexual relationships he develops during his stay—one with a prostitute he first meets as a client and then turns into an accomplice, and another with a perky French literature student (as sweet as she's cultured). The noose of lies Simon weaves in order to keep various strands of his self-made "reality" going slowly tightens to the point of visceral suffocation.

Save for its awfully ominous title, which keeps hovering over the proceedings from the start, Campos doesn't point his story in any generic way that would force us to see every single scene as an indicator of underlying threat. In fact, one of Simon Killer's most admirable achievements lies in the ease with which Campos turns some early scenes of desperate loneliness into nuggets of behavioral comedy, of which a prolonged multitask-masturbation involving a laptop is the most impressive one.

Simon Killer feels both carefully studied and willfully unfocused. Campos opts for showy shock cuts, elaborate wandering-eye pans, and jarring juxtapositions of different kinds of music—much of it courtesy of the main character's iPod, which at times switches from track to track literally mid-scene). Judging by the relatively high number of walkouts I witnessed during the press screening, the film manages to touch a raw nerve and will undoubtedly be deemed "pretentious" by some. I found it stunningly daring, refreshingly adventurous, and impossible to shake off, firmly establishing Campos as the new master of consciously hyper-crafted, dead-serious cine-angst.

Karina Longworth

The most divisive dramatic competition entry yet to screen at Sundance, Simon Killer is the second feature directed by Antonio Campos, director of Afterschool and producer of last year's Sundance hit Martha Marcy May Marlene. Like Martha Marcy, Simon is built around an attractive, enigmatic young person whose ostensible recent trauma -- in this case, the titular recent college grad, played by Brady Corbet, comes to Paris in an effort to recover from a rough break-up -- both muddles their vision, and complicates the film's view of their behavior. They are character studies which willfully obfuscate the truth about their main characters, psychological thrillers only offering misleading glimpses into psyches.

This approach to storytelling, while productively disorienting in Martha Marcy, is given richer formal and thematic complement in Simon Killer. In the first dialogue scene, Simon explains to a family friend that he completed a neuroscience thesis on peripheral vision, and the relationship between the brain and the eye.

"I'm not sure I understand," responds the friend, who is French, and is letting Simon stay in his Paris flat for a week. "That's okay, nobody does," Simon sighs.

What initially seems like pretentious post-grad arrogance twinned with self-pity is slowly revealed to be something closer to an admission of guilt: as long as Simon's modus operandi isn't understood, he can do anything, say anything, be anyone. And over the course of his winter in Paris, he'll create several lives for himself, his pathological lies and manipulations swallowed whole by a couple of very beautiful, very young women unlucky enough to end up in his path, and naive enough to let him into bed.

Simon's early speech about his supposed academic specialty is in some sense a decoder for the whole movie. Joe Anderson's gorgeous cinematography is constantly drawing attention to the way eyes -- and cameras -- work, with widescreen compositions built with Corbet in the absolute center, extreme focal changes amplifying the tension between foreground and background, and pulsing color field abstractions acting as minds-eye transitions.

And whether or not Simon is really an expert in the scientific mechanics of the brain's relationship to the eye, he demonstrates some kind of expertise in the way perception works in his dealings with women, from his coddling mom to the prostitute who takes Simon in when she thinks he's been mugged. These women take what Simon shows them at face value, and lose their ability to focus.

As sensually rich as it is, full of eye-candy color and smartly chosen pop music (one of Simon's seductions is set in a club, to LCD Soundsystem's "Dance Yourself Clean") and flashily ambitious filmmaking, Simon Killer is an embodiment of, and comment on, cinema as a manipulation of the eye and the brain. Plus, it effectively deflates the mechanics of male sexual compulsion without any of the martyr bullshit of Shame.

Simon Killer -  Andrew O’Hehir


The Playlist [William Goss]


DVD Talk [Jason Bailey]  also seen here:  Fourth Row Center [Jason Bailey]


SIMON KILLER Review | Collider  Matt Goldberg


SUNDANCE 2012: Simon Killer - Daily Film Dose  Alan Bacchus


SUNDANCE: Simon Killer Polarizes, But Maybe That's a Good Thing ...  Jen Yamato


Virtual Neon [Damon Wise] [Amanda Mae Meyncke]


Sundance 2012. Antonio Campos's "Simon Killer" on Notebook | MUBI  David Hudson at Mubi


Simon Killer: Sundance Film Review - The Hollywood Reporter  Todd McCarthy


Variety [Peter DeBruge]


Sundance 2012: Simon Killer – review | Film |  Jeremy Kay

Camus, Marcel


Marcel Camus  Sight and Sound
Camus was a professor of painting and sculpture before breaking into film as an assistant to Alexandre Astruc, 'Georges Rouquier' and Jacques Becker, among others. During this period he made his first film, a short documentary called Renaissance Du Havre (1950). Like many French film-makers whose first chance to direct a feature came in the postwar era, Camus chose to deal explicitly with the issue of personal sacrifice in the context of war. But unlike most of his colleagues who quite naturally dealt with WWII, Camus took as his subject the war in Indochina. Camus then embarked on three films in collaboration with writer Jacques Viot.
Marcel Camus' work is often characterised by its lyricism, which was central to his films of the 1950s and 60s - Mort en fraude (1957) (aka Fugitive in Saigon), Orfeu Negro (1959) (aka Black Orpheus) and Vivre la nuit (1967). Black Orpheus brought him international acclaim. Winner of the 1959 Palme d'Or at Cannes and an Academy Award as best foreign language film, this exotic modern adaptation of the Greek legend portrays its Orpheus (Breno Mello) as a streetcar conductor who meets his Eurydice (Marpessa Dawn) and lives out his legendary destiny during the Carnival in Rio de Janeiro.
The next two Camus-Viot collaborations, Bandeirantes, Os (1960) and L'Oiseau de paradis (1962), were generally well received, but neither lived up to the expectations created by Black Orpheus. Vivre la nuit (1967), an affecting portrait of nocturnal Paris, proved successful, but Un été sauvage (1970) was generally recognised as an inauthentic and superficial evocation of young people on vacation in Saint-Tropez.
Camus then returned to the subject of war, this time with a gentle comedy about a Normandy restaurant owner who becomes a hero of the Resistance in spite of himself. Le Mur de l'Atlantique (1970) offered a rich role for comic actor Bourvil, but was essentially a routine commercial product. This unfortunate trend continued with Os Pastores da Noite (1975), and some less notable work for French TV.
BLACK ORPHEUS  (Orfeu Negro)

France  Italy  Brazil  (107 mi)  1959


Time Out London review


Winner of the 1959 Palme d’Or at Cannes and the Oscar for Best Foreign Film, this retelling of the Orpheus story in carnival-thronged Rio hasn’t altogether escaped the ravages of time. Although Marcel Camus’ film sprang from contemporary currents in Brazil (based on a theatre piece by Vinicius de Moraes, and gaining immeasurably from its classic samba score by fresh talents Luiz Bonfá and Antonio Carlos Jobim), it’s still hard to escape the suspicion that the French director is exploiting the abundant local colour for his own purposes. That said, his largely non-professional cast acquit themselves with an appealing sincerity as handsome trolleybus conductor Orfeu (Breno Mello) falls for visiting innocent Eurydice (Marpessa Dawn), despite the fact he’s engaged to the brazen Mira (Lourdes de Oliveira). Romantic intrigue soon gives way to an altogether darker mood though, as Orfeu finds himself unable to protect his new love from the unwelcome attentions of a dark stranger, who makes his fatal strike while the carnival’s at its height and his skeleton outfit blends right in.It’s a film that improves as it goes along, the clunky comedy of the happy favelas eclipsed by an imaginative transposition of the Orphic legend, cleverly using locations such as the city’s missing-persons bureau and a Macumba ceremony seemingly halfway between revivalist meeting and voodoo frenzy. Presumably, this ethnographic aspect impressed at the time, but nowadays it’s the incredibly rich whirl of colour and movement captured by Jean Bourgoin’s gorgeous cinematography and the timelessly appealing soundtrack (inspiration for a subsequent generation of jazzmen) that continue to cast a spell. A mixed bag then, but the highlights are memorable.


Black Orpheus  BFI Screen Online (link lost)


In 1959 Black Orpheus introduced the world to the music, sensuality and colour of Rio de Janeiro's Carnival and gave jazz hipsters a new, infectious style - the bossa nova. The film is based on a Brazilian play inspired by the Greek myth of Orpheus and Eurydice. Described as "one of the year's best 10 best films", Marcel Camus' dazzling feature won both the Palme d'Or and the Oscar for best foreign language film.
The hillside slums of Rio de Janeiro, populated by an all-black cast, are alive with anticipation. Everyone is preparing for Carnival, not least Orpheus, a seductive guitar player with an exquisite voice, who's far more interested in getting his guitar out of hock than in buying an engagement ring for his fiancée Mira. He falls in love with Eurydice who's just arrived in town, escaping her village where she's being pursued by a sinister stranger. The drums are beating and the frenzy of Carnival is irresistible...
The impressive cast is led by Breno Mello, the handsome Brazilian football player who plays Orpheus, and Marpessa Dawn as Eurydice, whilst the cast of four thousand extras came free when word got out that a mock carnival had hit the streets of Rio! But the real star of Black Orpheus is samba. Long outlawed as a subversive expression of black slave culture, samba was banned from the Rio Carnival by the Brazilian authorities until the 1930s. By the late 1950s it had been revitalised as bossa nova, and it was Black Orpheus - with its legendary soundtrack by Antonio Carlos Jobim and Luis Bonfa - that introduced the world to a sound and spirit which still sets pulses racing today. (Chris Dashiell) review

The Orpheus legend is transposed to Rio at the time of Carnival, in this international success which won the Oscar for Best Foreign Language film. Orpheus (Breno Mello) is a tram driver who is also an inspired musician. Eurydice (Marpessa Dawn) is a naive country girl who comes to the city to stay with her sister. The acting tends to be crude - some of the supporting cast shout their lines in an annoying manner. And Camus and his writers don't know how to go very deeply into the mythical elements. (Death as a guy in a black leotard may inspire more laughter than dread.) Despite all this, the picture has a vibrantly colorful look, and the carnival atmosphere, with marvelous music and dancing, is seductive indeed. Perhaps because of the film's very naivete, it also succeeds in creating a feeling of youthful passion and romance. And Dawn, the director's wife, is as lovely a Eurydice as one could ask for. Not a great film by any means, Black Orpheus is still a luscious entertainment.

Film Court (Lawrence Russell) review (Jay Seaver) review [4/5]

James Bowman review

Boston Globe review [3/4]  Wesley Morris


The New York Times (Bosley Crowther) review


DVDBeaver dvd review  Gary W. Tooze

Music samples from Black Orpheus soundtrack

Canby, Vincent – film critic


Movie Reviews - Movies - New York Times  There are over 1000 film reviews listed written by Vincent Canby for The New York Times


Review Listings - Theater - New York Times   There are 42 theater reviews listed written by Vincent Canby for The New York Times


Canby, Vincent  essay by Gerald Peary


Bob Hope, Comedic Master and Entertainer of Troops, Dies at 100  Bob Hope obituary written by Vincent Canby for the New York Times


village voice > film > Vincent Canby, 1924-2000 by Amy Taubin  Canby’s obituary written by Amy Taubin from the Village Voice, October 25 – 31, 2000


Four Hairdressers in Heat; Remembering Vincent Canby | The New ...  reflections on Canby by Andrew Sarris from the New York Observer, October 29, 2000


Romancing the Screen  memorial reflections by Stuart Klawans from the Nation, November 9, 2000


Andy Warhol 23: Andrea Feldman R.I.P.  Warholian reflections on Canby by Candy Darling


Filmmakers Call Vincent Canby's Life Overlong, Poorly Paced | The ...  The Onion takes a stab at criticizing Canby’s demise


Columbia College Today  Film Criticism Comes of Age, an excerpt from Philip Lopate’s Introduction to his book, American Movie Critics  


The Evening Class: FILM CRITICISM BLOGATHON—Phillip Lopate: PFA ...  Michael Guillen covers the same Lopate speech on his blog


Vincent Canby - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Canet, Guillaume
TELL NO ONE (Ne le dis à personne)               B+                   92

France  (125 mi)  2006  ‘Scope


A thoroughly enjoyable yet somewhat improbable suspense thriller that keeps the audience on their toes throughout with a constantly shifting storyline and well developed characters a