Friday, August 31, 2012

BONSAI (BONSÁI)

A clear signal of the vitality of current Latin American cinema comes now from Chile, and one that is closer to the narrative playfulness of Alicia Scherson's Play than to the dark intensity of Pablo Larraín's work. For his sophomore feature, Cristián Jiménez takes on writer Alejandro Zambra's debut novella Bonsái and creates a deadpan, bitter-sweet mash-up of love, life and literature, set in two parallel time frames eight years apart.

     In the past, college students Julio (Diego Noguera) and Emília (Natalia Galgani) find themselves in a cerebral romance mediated by his pretending to have read Proust's Remembrances of Time Past. In the present, struggling writer Julio fails to be hired as an assistant to a celebrated writer but, unable to admit the truth to his neighbour/sometime girlfriend Blanca (Trinidad González), he fakes it by passing the tale of his own romance with Emília, whom he has since lost contact with, as the writer's new work he must transcribe. Juggling the time signatures in clearly signposted blocks framed with wry humour in order to highlight the awkwardness of the corners Julio paints himself into, Mr. Jiménez explores the contrast between self-image and reality, desire and truth, through the time-honoured writer's concept of "write what you know". It is by writing down his own love story that Julio realises what his life has been missing all along, but also that, while he has deliberately stood by, life has passed him by in such a way he may not really be able to make up for the lost time.

     Behind the deadpan wit and enchantingly clumsy tale of a man ill at ease with himself, lies as well a melancholy realisation of how much we are shaped by our choices and how often we make them without realising what we are letting ourselves in for. Bonsái is a smart, lovely movie.

Cast: Diego Noguera, Natalia Galgani, Trinidad González, Gabriela Arancíbia, Andrés Waas, Alicia Fehrmann, Alicia Luz Rodríguez

Director: Cristián Jiménez
Screenplay: Mr. Jiménez, from the novella by Alejandro Zambra, Bonsái
Cinematography: Inti Briones  (colour)
Music: Caroline Chaspoul, Eduardo Henríquez
Art director: Jorge Zambrano
Costumes: Mary Ann Smith
Editor: Soledad Salfate
Producers: Bruno Bettati, Nadia Turincev, Julie Gayet  (Jirafa and Rouge International in co-production with Rizoma and Ukbar Filmes)
Chile/France/Argentina/Portugal, 2011, 92 minutes

Screened: distributor advance screener DVD, Lisbon, May 4th 2012



BONSAI (Trailer Oficial) from Jirafa on Vimeo.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

OSLO, 31. AUGUST (OSLO, AUGUST 31ST)

It takes a while to recognise the story at the heart of Norwegian director Joachim Trier's sophomore effort as the same that Louis Malle based his own 1963 classic Le Feu follet (The Fire Within) on. Notorious French writer Pierre Drieu de la Rochelle's tale of an alcoholic doing the rounds of his friends while considering whether to kill himself is here turned by Mr. Trier and his co-writer, Eskil Vogt, into a graceful, heartbreaking tale of a recovering drug addict wandering through modern-day Oslo, looking for a reason to go on living after having wasted his life and burnt every bridge with friends and family.

     Anchored in non-pro Anders Danielson Lie's stirring, stunning, raw bleeding performance, Oslo, August 31st becomes an observational look at the state of the modern world as seen through the existential questioning of a character who feels so much outside society he is unsure, unable or unwilling to ever understand he may have a way back into it. Summertime Oslo is here used as both a Proustian madeleine to what once was and a living reminder that you can't go home again; Mr. Trier's handling has a moody, ghostly yet lighter-than-air quality, heightened by an initial suicide attempt shot almost as a reverse baptism, and the glorious, beautiful quality of the way the city is filmed. This makes Oslo, August 31st both a requiem for a wasted life or a grace note, a fleeting moment of reprieve in between life and death.

     Somewhere between the classicism of a melancholy melodrama (with so little yet so much in common with Mr. Malle's remarkable film) and a pensive meditation on life as we know it, it is an outstanding film; a superb, unexpected achievement.

Cast: Anders Danielson Lie, Malin Crepin, Aksel M. Thanke, Hans Olav Brenner, Ingrid Olava, Øystein Røger, Tøne B. Mostraum, Kjærsti Odden Skjeldal, Petter Width Kristiansen, Emil Lund, Johann Kjellevik Ledang, Renate Reinsve, Andreas Braaten, Anders Borchgrevink

Director: Joachim Trier
Screenplay: Eskil Vogt, Mr. Trier, from the novel by Pierre Drieu de la Rochelle, Le Feu follet
Cinematography: Jakob Ihre (colour)
Music: Ola Sløttum, Torgny Amdam
Designer: Jørgen Stangebye Larsen
Costumes: Ellen Dæhli Ystehede
Editor: Olivier Bugge Coutté
Producers: Hans-Jørgen Osnes, Yngve Sæther, Sigve Endresen (Motlys in co-production with Don't Look Now)
Norway, 2011, 90 minutes

Screened: distributor advance DVD screener, Lisbon & Estoril Film Festival 2011 competitive selection, October 30th 2011


Friday, August 24, 2012

THE BOURNE LEGACY

When star Matt Damon and director Paul Greengrass passed on a fourth installment of the Bourne series of kinetic thrillers based on Robert Ludlum's novels, Universal's decision seemed smartly counter-intuitive: shift the series onto a new hero borne (ahem) from a similar secret programme, played by a new actor, and hand over the reins to Tony Gilroy, who scripted all three previous films and is a fine director in his own right (Michael Clayton, Duplicity).

     Yet, The Bourne Legacy does not yield the expected results. Mr. Gilroy, who famously disparaged the angle Mr. Greengrass took on his final script for The Bourne Supremacy and dropped out of The Bourne Ultimatum after an initial draft, fails to deliver what he said would do differently with the series. Stunningly, he does so despite writing in a series of tantalising clues and plotting an intriguing conspiracy theory in dealing with the case of Aaron Cross (Jeremy Renner), the only surviving operative of an experimental programme called Outcome after the Pentagon shuts it down with extreme prejudice once Jason Bourne comes to New York City.

     The overlapping of The Bourne Legacy with the events taking place in The Bourne Ultimatum is a nice twist, as are the brief walk-ons of actors from previous movies (save for Mr. Damon), the references to classic "paranoid thrillers" such as Three Days of the Condor, and the implications of the genetic trials being done on Outcome, hinting at a poignancy straight out of Daniel Keyes' Flowers for Algernon. But Mr. Gilroy eventually leaves such hints undeveloped to focus on the action sequences, staged with less punch and in a much more workmanlike way than in previous episodes, and climaxing in an overdrawn "thrilla in Manila" chase that goes on for so long it threatens to tip the whole film into blockbuster parody territory. What's even more disappointing is that the director calls in an undoubtedly talented cast while giving them effectively little or nothing to do: Mr. Renner's dangerous edge is almost entirely left out, Rachel Weisz has one great scene and is then reduced to standard lab chick filler, and an actor as fine as Edward Norton is entirely wasted in an almost guest star role.

     Halfway through it all becomes quite clear that Mr. Gilroy is bringing the series back from their combination of kinetic action and script smarts into a more classic blockbuster thriller territory - effectively diluting its sole claim to standing out among current Hollywood major studio productions.

Cast: Jeremy Renner, Rachel Weisz, Edward Norton, Stacy Keach, Dennis Boutsikaris, Oscar Isaac, Joan Allen, Albert Finney, David Strathairn, Scott Glenn

Director: Tony Gilroy
Screenplay: Tony Gilroy, Dan Gilroy, from a story by Tony Gilroy
Cinematography: Robert Elswit (colour, processing by DeLuxe, Panavision widescreen)
Music: James Newton Howard
Designer: Kevin Thompson
Costumes: Shay Cunliffe
Editor: John Gilroy
Producers: Frank Marshall, Patrick Crowley, Jeffrey M. Weiner, Ben Smith (Universal Pictures and The Kennedy/Marshall Company in association with Relativity Media, Captivate Entertainment and Dentsu)
USA/Japan, 2012, 135 minutes

Screened: distributor advance press screening, Zon Lusomundo Colombo 9 (Lisbon), August 17th 2012.


Thursday, August 23, 2012

2 DAYS IN NEW YORK

There is one really smart gag in Julie Delpy's slighter follow-up to the already slight 2 Days in Paris: her artist character, Marion, decides to sell her soul as an artistic statement-cum-media stunt, allowing her to present herself as "the soulless Marion Dupré". But soullessness is, however, the exact opposite problem the hyphenate French filmmaker has: if anything, she is over-souled, as seen in the everything-but-the-kitchen-sink free-for-all of this sequel to her own directing debut. Ms. Delpy has since directed two other features, among which the much more interesting Le Skylab, but her boundless energy and spirit seems totally unharnessed in this hectic farce where there's too much happening at the same time.

     The film shifts its culture-clash humour from Americans in France to Frenchmen in America, as Marion's father (ms. Delpy's own father Albert), sister (Alexia Landeau) and ex-boyfriend (Alex Nahon) come visit for the opening of her art show and immediately start getting on the nerves of her new boyfriend Mingus (Chris Rock) and throwing all sorts of obstacles at their relationship. Cue basic tourist jokes, harried family problems and some smartish deadpan humour about family, love and apartment buzzers that brings to mind a female Woody Allen. The result, however, is overburdened, overloaded, ultimately all over the place, never focussing long enough on any of its plot points (not even the interesting ones) for them to coalesce. It's a busy film whose busy-ness is its undoing, and even though its third act attempts at gravity raise interesting points, 2 Days in New York never really coheres. It's hardly a waste, though, since Ms. Delpy's predilection for ensemble casts as opposed to star performances and generosity of spirit as a directing actress mean there's always something truthful going on and the actors are a pleasure to behold.

Cast: Chris Rock, Julie Delpy, Albert Delpy, Alexia Landeau, Alex Nahon, Daniel Brühl

Director, composer: Ms. Delpy
Screenplay: Ms. Delpy and Ms. Landeau, from a story by Ms. Delpy, Ms. Landeau and Mr. Nahon
Cinematography: Lubomir Bakchev (colour)
Designer: Judy Rhee
Costumes: Rebecca Hofherr
Editor: Isabelle Devinck
Producers: Ms. Delpy, Ulf Israel, Jean-Jacques Neira, Hubert Toint, Christophe Mazodier, Scott Franklin (Polaris Film Finance & Production, Tempête Sous Un Crâne Production, Senator Filmproduktion, Saga Film in association with Alvy Productions, In Productions, TDY Filmproduktion, Protozoa Pictures, Rézo Films, in co-production with BNP Paribas Fortis Film Fund)
France/Germany/Belgium/USA, 2012, 96 minutes

Screened: distributor advance press screening, UCI El Corte Inglés 12, Lisbon, July 17th 2012

Sunday, August 19, 2012

THE FUTURE

As infuriatingly twee as it is disquietly strange and unusually thoughtful, The Future is a step back in multimedia artist Miranda July's film career after the endearing oddness of her debut Me and You and Everyone We Know. Here, her skewed, offbeat look at a generation of people fearful of growing up, of over-educated underachievers overly dependent on technology and unsure about how to get along in the real world, asks a number of interesting, relevant questions. But Ms. July does so in a stylistically artless, narratively surreal way that might look like nothing else around at the moment but never really coalesces into a proper cinematic statement.

     Sophie (Ms. July) and Jason (Hamish Linklater) are an aimless Angeleno couple in their mid-thirties that ramble on in low-level jobs; upon deciding to adopt a sick cat, they decide to live like there's no tomorrow during the month before they pick him up, looking for all sorts of meaningful relationships and moments as a goodbye to freedom before caring for their surrogate child takes up most of their time. But nothing really turns out the way it was expected, and that gives The Future its sad, haunting subtext built out of life's accumulation of daily small disappointments, juxtaposed with the star/director/writer's whimsical, often surreal inventions.

     Those surreal inventions - Sophie's safety blanket T-shirt and guileless affair with the owner of a sign company, Jason's ability to stop time and chat with the moon - are what make The Future such an uncomfortable, bewildering watch. There is a sense that Ms. July is trying to articulate the inside of her mind live in front of the viewer, but she comes across instead as a dilettante artist attempting to translate her universe into narrative images without having enough of a skill set to do so. The result is simultaneously intriguing and insufferable, enough to make you wonder if another director might not have turned it into the film that is undoubtedly lurking inside here but didn't quite come out this time around.

Cast: Hamish Linklater, Miranda July, David Warshofsky, Isabella Acres, Joe Putterlik

Director, writer: Ms. July
Cinematography: Nikolai von Graevenitz (colour)
Music: Jon Brion
Designer: Elliott Hostetter
Costumes: Christie Wittenborn
Editor: Andrew Bird
Producers: Gina Kwon, Roman Paul, Gerhard Meixner (Razor Filmproduktion, GNK and Leopold in cooperation with Film 4, in association with The Match Factory and Haut et Court)
Germany/USA/United Kingdom/France, 2010, 91 minutes

Screened: Berlin Film Festival - official competition, Berlinale Palast, Berlin, February 15th 2011; DVD, Lisbon, August 11th 2012


Saturday, August 18, 2012

THE EYE OF THE STORM

Australian director Fred Schepisi's first home-grown feature in over 20 years seems to be a bitter-sweet celebration of Australian-ness: it's an adaptation of Australian Nobel laureate Patrick White's novel about the decadence of a tony Sydney family, rendered in the baroque, claustrophobic mood of a sickly-sweet Edwardian manse where time seems to have stopped somewhere in the past at the matriarch's whim, set in the early 1970s as the adult children (Judy Davis and Geoffrey Rush) return from abroad to reunite with their dying mother (Charlotte Rampling).

     Unfortunately, both plot and structure-wise, The Eye of the Storm pretty much brings nothing new to the slow disappearance of an earlier, more genteel way of life, as well as to the traditional coming to terms with one's past; the characters are all pretty much stock, from the opposites-attract nurses to the money-obsessed, emotionally scarred children, and the handling is occasionally clumsy, most often clearly illustrative more than inspired. But Mr. Schepisi's careful attention to the actors, and their own commitment to the story, make these characters exist beyond stock as human beings faced with "life, death and everything in between". In fact, the entire ensemble cast's clear grounding of the characters as real people who are all facing difficult moments in their own lives, whether for selfish or altruistic reasons, is what tricks the viewer into believing The Eye of the Storm is a better film than it seems to be. For all that, what really beguiles and makes it well worth seeing is Ms. Rampling's nuanced portrayal of the imperious matriarch, a tour de force of wily theatricality and nervous vulnerability that anchors the film solidly.

Cast: Geoffrey Rush, Charlotte Rampling, Judy Davis, Alexandra Schepisi, Helen Morse, John Gaden, Robyn Nevin, Colin Friels, Maria Theodorakis

Director: Fred Schepisi
Screenplay: Judy Morris, from the novel by Patrick White, The Eye of the Storm
Cinematography: Ian Baker (colour, processing by Deluxe, Panavision widescreen)
Music: Paul Grabowsky
Designer: Melinda Doring
Costumes: Terry Ryan
Editor: Kate Williams
Producers: Antony Waddington, Gregory Read, Mr. Schepisi (Paper Bark Films in association with RMB Productions, Australian Broadcasting Corporation, Screen Australia and Film Victoria, in co-production with Ingenious Broadcasting)
Australia, 2011, 119 minutes

Screened: distributor advance press screening, Zon Lusomundo Colombo 9, August 10th 2012


Friday, August 17, 2012

THE CABIN IN THE WOODS

"Keep the customers satisfied", somebody says at some point in The Cabin in the Woods - that, in a nutshell, is the essence of Joss Whedon and Drew Goddard's meta horror movie that picks up the genre's standard-issue tropes in order to dismantle and reassemble them into an unnerving meditation on the nature of fear and man's inhumanity to man.

     Outwardly a classic "ten little niggers" scenario following five college students on a weekend outing at a remote cabin by a lake, it becomes something else as Messrs. Whedon and Goddard pour in all the genre tropes - from the typecasting of the five kids to the role each of them is playing, down to the "final girl", through the sequence in which things happen - then put us at a remove as we realise that the events they're experiencing are being manipulated in real time from an aseptic control room for - whose pleasure exactly? Ours? Somebody else's? The filmmakers'?

     It's all about storytelling, and the way said storytelling functions as a metaphor or a substitute, a need to create or find reasons within the strictly codified rules of horror movies, using the B-movie tradition of reflecting the events of its own time through a glass darkly. And reflect our time Messrs. Whedon and Goddard's endlessly inventive, occasionally snarky, yet almost respectful twists indeed do, bringing together technology, reality television, cinema history and pop culture in order to create this monster of a monster movie. A horror movie for our hyperlinked, super-connected days, using the multiplication of screens in this multi-layered tale as a translation of our need for sacrificial lambs and for the release of our baser instincts into a modern take on escapism and voyeurism.

     Sophisticated yet gory, utterly scary while incredibly funny, The Cabin in the Woods could be described pithily as the thinking man's horror movie, but instead it's just probably the best horror movie I've seen in a very long time.

Cast: Kristen Connolly, Chris Hemsworth, Anna Hutchison, Fran Kranz, Jesse Williams, Richard Jenkins, Bradley Whitford, Sigourney Weaver

Director: Drew Goddard
Screenplay: Joss Whedon, Mr. Goddard
Cinematography: Peter Deming (colour by Deluxe, Panavision widescreen)
Music: David Julyan
Designer: Martin Whist
Costumes: Shawna Trpcic
Editor: Lisa Lassek
Visual effects: Todd Shifflett
Make-up effects: David Leroy Anderson
Producer: Mr. Whedon (Lions Gate Films, Mutant Enemy Productions)
USA, 2011, 95 minutes

Screened: distributor advance press screening, Zon Lusomundo Colombo 8, Lisbon, August 9th 2012


Thursday, August 16, 2012

BRAVE

It was probably bound to happen. Few directors, or even studios, can score a perfect bullseye on every outing, and Pixar was admittedly pushing it a bit by now. Brave extends the slump that Toy Story 3 hid perfectly and that the underwhelming Cars 2 suggested, being more of an old-fashioned Disney fairy-tale with a twist about a Scottish princess whose rebelliousness jeopardises her father's kingdom than a boundary-pushing Pixar take on the genre of girl-driven fairy-tales. The big question is whether this lesser inventiveness was there from the beginning of co-director and co-writer Brenda Chapman's concept, or whether it resulted from the takeover halfway through production by creative director Mark Andrews.

     Regardless, it's clear that, despite Pixar's "story first" mantra, this here story isn't particularly impressive despite its lovely Celtic setting and the classy animation work. The idea of a young woman coming of age as she decides to take her fate into her hands and break with the traditions of her clan is enmeshed with the classic fairy-tale device of the spell gone wrong, suggesting there is no way for a princess movie to escape tradition. And that is truly a realisation of what is wrong with this latest Pixar production: you expect a film that will break the glass ceiling of what animation should be, you get just another kids' movie. Admittedly a cut above the average, exquisitely designed, smartly handled, with a few wonderful set-pieces, but at heart just another kids' movie. And, sorry to say, we expect more from Pixar than just another kids' movie.

Voice cast: Kelly Macdonald, Billy Connolly, Emma Thompson, Julie Walters, Robbie Coltrane, Kevin McKidd, Craig Ferguson

Directors: Mark Andrews, Brenda Chapman, Steve Purcell
Screenplay: Mr. Andrews, Mr. Purcell, Ms. Chapman, Irene Mecchi, from a story by Ms. Chapman
Photography (camera): Robert Anderson
Photography (lighting): Danielle Feinberg
Designer: Steve Pilcher
Editor: Nicholas C. Smith
Music: Patrick Doyle
Producer: Katherine Sarafian (Walt Disney Pictures, Pixar Animation Studios)
USA, 2012, 93 minutes

Screened: distributor advance press screening, Zon Lusomundo Colombo 6 (Lisbon), July 31st 2012


Wednesday, August 15, 2012

DERNIÈRE SÉANCE

Leave it to the French to make a metaphysical slasher movie that climaxes at the end of Jean Renoir's Moulin Rouge, screened during the last days of a small-town cinema about to be torn down to make way for a clothing store. Laurent Achard's film, commissioned for a series of genre pictures by pay-TV channel Canal Plus, deliberately plays up the disreputable, unrealistic aspects of Italian giallo and cut-rate slashers, revelling in the incongruencies and subtexts of the plot the director devised with co-writer Frédérique Moreau: psychotic projectionist-cum-manager Sylvain (Pascal Cervo) runs the theatre and kills women on the side, slicing off their ears to add to his collection, apparently inspired by a childhood trauma glimpsed in the occasional flashback.

     Dernière Séance is pure metaphor of the id, with Sylvain's "above ground" life in the theatre opposed to his "underground" obsession (he lives in the cavernous cellars of the building, decorated with old film posters). The approach is certainly intriguing, and is in keeping with the director's usual thematic interests; but Mr. Achard takes both the seriousness of the plot and the playfulness of the treatment with far too much stiffness, resulting in a rather indigestible combination of awkward horror movie tropes and over-thought, overwrought psychological drama, full of intriguing ideas left half-baked by the film's over-arching self-awareness.

Cast: Pascal Cervo, Charlotte van Kemmel, Karole Rocher, Austin Morel, Brigitte Sy, Mireille Roussel, Corinne Lamborot, Noël Simsolo, Francine Lorin-Blasquez, Nicolas Pignon

Director: Laurent Achard
Screenplay: Mr. Achard, Frédérique Moreau
Cinematography: Sabine Lancelin (colour, processing by Arane Gulliver)
Designer: Frédéric Lapierre
Costumes: Bénédicte Levraut
Editor: Jean-Christophe Hym
Producer: Sylvie Pialat (Les Films du Worso in co-production with Dragon 8, Mikros Image and Arane Productions)
France, 2011, 78 minutes

Screened: Curtas Vila do Conde 2012, Teatro Municipal de Vila do Conde, July 8th 2012.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

ROOM 237

If one of the standard avenues of film criticism is opening new doors and suggesting new interpretations of a film's thematic and creative ideas, Room 237 takes that path into a highly conceptualized realm of fan obsession with Stanley Kubrick's 1980 Stephen King adaptation The Shining. Never one of Mr. Kubrick's most unanimous film, it has however become one of his most infuriating and haunting ones, especially for the five people from different walks of life that director Rodney Archer interviewed for Room 237 (named after the mysterious off-limits room at the film's hotel setting). All of them have developed particular theories about the film's deeper meaning and undercover subtexts - ranging from intriguing, reasonable interpretations to outlandish flights of fancy whose frightening intensity suggests either people with too much time on their hands or visionaries who have answered primeval mysteries.

     The wide scope of theories built around The Shining, from meditations on the Holocaust and Native American genocide to conspiracy theories about fake moon landings, only heighten how much authorial intent is only part of a work of art, and just how much it is created by its viewers as well; and Mr. Kubrick's meticulous, painstaking attention to detail pretty much invites an equal level of obsession from any committed viewer. The trick that kicks Room 237 into overdrive, though, is that there is practically not one frame of purpose-shot footage here. Everything is screen-grabs or excerpts from The Shining and other films by Mr. Kubrick and other directors, repurposed for the effects of illustrating the theories of the five interviewees, who are never seen on screen but merely heard on the soundtrack. An ingenious concept in theory, granted, but not so much in practice: the absence of "human" talking heads turns the film quickly into an abstract construct that grows tiresome, especially since the voices aren't always clearly distinguishable from each other. The repetition of footage to make points or illustrate theories becomes wearisome with time, suggesting a relatively smaller running time might have been helpful to tighten up the project.

     Above all, there is a sense that Mr. Ascher's concept, fascinating as it is and impressively put together as it is, needed a more serious, sober take to better make its points about interpretation, as Room 237's ingenious form draws far too much attention to itself and ends up overwhelming the very interesting questions it suggests.

Director, writer, editor: Rodney Ascher
Music: William Hutson, Jonathan Snipes
Producer, Tim Kirk (Highland Park Classics, The Room 237 Group) 
USA, 2012, 102 minutes

Screened: Curtas Vila do Conde 2012 advance screener, DVD, Lisbon, July 3rd 2012

Monday, August 13, 2012

KISEKI (I WISH)

Japanese director Hirokazu Kore-eda's finest films have been moving, delicate studies of people having to deal with the daily elements of life - I Wish is no exception, though it forms a bookend to the director's worldwide breakthrough film Nobody Knows, of which it seems to be the mirror positive. In common, both films are about children learning to deal with the adult world around them; but where that world in Nobody Knows was one of loneliness and alienation for its children left to their own devices by an absent mother, in I Wish it is a peaceful place of friendship and kindness. It's only logical, since at its hear is a child's wish to make whole what was rent asunder, and Mr. Kore-eda tells his story from a child's point of view.

     When their parents divorced, brothers Koichi and Ryu (real-life brothers Koki and Ohshiro Maeda) were separated along with them: the older, more dour Koichi lives with his mother at his grandparents' in Kagoshima, the younger and perpetually happy Ryu with his struggling musician father in Fukuoka. A new bullet-train connection and a legend that a wish will come true at the point two trains cross each other in opposite directions leads Koichi to devise a plan - head to the nearest spot where they cross and wish for the family to be back together. Mr. Kore-eda takes great pleasure in having us follow the two brothers' separate lives up to their meeting, allowing their tales to ramble on amiably soundtracked Quruli's rather overbearing acoustic stylings.

     Therein lies the problem that brings I Wish a notch below both Nobody Knows and the previous, equally remarkable Still Walking: besides a  burdensome soundtrack that makes it more of a children's movie than it actually is, that rambling quality sees the film lose focus on the way to a truly magnificent final act where everything comes together as it should. True, it's questionable whether that final act would be as powerful without that rambling (especially since the director is, as he has always been, his own editor). It's just that, after the magic of what Mr. Kore-eda presented us with in previous films, I Wish being "merely" very good carries a trace element of disappointment.

Cast: Koki Maeda, Ohshiro Maeda, Nene Ohtsuka, Joe Odagiri, Ryoga Hayashi, Seinosuke Nagayoshi, Kyara Uchida, Kanna Hashimoto, Rento Isobe, Yui Natsukawa, Masami Nagasawa, Hiroshi Abe, Yoshio Harada, Kirin Kiki, Isao Hashizume

Director, writer, editor: Hirokazu Kore-eda
Cinematography: Yutaka Yamazaki  (colour)
Music: Quruli
Designer: Keiko Mitsumatsu
Costumes: Miwako Kobayashi
Producers: Kentaro Koike, Hijiri Taguchi  (Shirogumi in co-production with Big X)
Japan, 2011, 128 minutes

Screened: DVD, Lisbon, August 5th 2012. 

Sunday, August 12, 2012

DAS LETZTE SCHWEIGEN (THE SILENCE)

A surprisingly thoughtful take on serial thrillers and mosaic melodrama, Swiss director Baran bo Odar's feature debut is a quietly desperate meditation on guilt and innocence, orbiting two similar crimes taking place in the exact same spot in rural Germany a quarter century apart. The murder of a local teenager seems to be exactly duplicated 23 years later, throwing into disarray the lives of those most directly affected by it - except, apparently, the man responsible, who may not even be the same culprit of 25 years earlier.

     Unfolding slowly as it shifts between investigators, relatives, murderers, accomplices and passersby, The Silence becomes unobtrusively gripping as you realize this is one thriller that undermines the rules of the police procedural to focus on doubts, emotions, thoughts equally divided between those who were present then and those who are present now. And nobody involved is either innocent or untouched; everyone is damaged or blemished, either because of what they did not do or because of what they did do, regardless of whether then or now, with the bright colours of the Summer fields hiding in plain sight everything that is wrong, a pleasant landscape where nothing is quite it seems. A stellar set of ensemble performances from a tight cast and mr. Bo Odar's elegant (if occasionally overly formalist) handling make The Silence a welcome little surprise.

Cast: Ulrich Thomsen, Wotan Wilke Möhring, Katrin Sass, Sebastian Blomberg, Burghart Klaussner, Karoline Eichhorn, Roeland Wiesnekker, Jule Böwe, Oliver Stokowski, Claudia Michelsen

Director: Baran bo Odar
Screenplay: Mr. Bo Odar, from the novel by Jan Costin Wagner, Silence
Cinematography: Nikolaus Summerer  (colour, widescreen)
Music: Michael Kamm, Kris Steininger
Designers: Yeşim Zolan, Christian M. Goldbeck
Costumes: Katharina Ost
Editor: Robert Rzesacz
Producers: Jantje Friese, Jörg Schulze, Frank Evers, Maren Lüthje, Florian Schneider, Baran bo Odar (Cine Plus and Lüthje Schneider Film in co-production with ZDF das kleine Fernsehspiel)
Germany, 2010, 114 minutes

Screened: DVD, Lisbon, August 4th 2012

Saturday, August 11, 2012

4:44 LAST DAY ON EARTH

"All we have is each other" seems to be the takeaway message of American maverick Abel Ferrara's latest film. As a core statement, it fits right in with Mr. Ferrara's ongoing fetishisation of a certain decadent-romantic New York City and of an against-all-odds concept of independently-financed and -minded cinema, as seen in his latest films, 2007's Go Go Tales (actually shot in Rome) and the 2008 documentary Chelsea on the Rocks. But, combative as the director can be, 4:44 Last Day on Earth seems to be a requiem for that idea of independent cinema, for a creative freedom that seems to no longer exist. Which would all be well and good if you were left with something that would prove Mr. Ferrara still had what it takes to raise those colours.

     Instead, 4:44...'s conflagration of sex and art and use of modern technology (laptops, TV screens, cellphones, Skype) to frame its story of a New York couple (Willem Dafoe and Shanyn Leigh) waiting for the end of the world seem like a clueless attempt from a tired director to make something that will be simultaneously personal and relevant to contemporary audiences. It suggests nothing so much as the director raging against the dying of the light and undecided whether he wants to go quietly or with a bang. Admittedly, the fact that Mr. Ferrara cast Ms. Leigh, his current partner, and Mr. Dafoe, a long-time collaborator, and that he has raged regularly in interviews against the current state of American independent cinema pretty much allows these readings; 4:44... is his first feature in five years, done entirely with European and Latin-American financing, and Go Go Tales practically took those five years to find an American distributor.

     But this is a surprisingly wan film, a ragged, shapeless tale of two people trying to make the best of their final moments on Earth, but unable to find any sort of transcendence in a half-hearted series of trite, unconvincing clichés, extended scenes and underscripted, freewheeling performances. Infrequently, the old, fiery Abel Ferrara surfaces - especially in a stunning, feral bathroom scene, and in a lovely, moving kitchen goodbye - showing glimmers of what could have been, but not enough to make up for what 4:44... so obviously isn't. Quite a disappointment.

Starring: Willem Dafoe, Shanyn Leigh; Natasha Lyonne, Paul Hipp, Anita Pallenberg, Dierdra MacDowell, Paz de la Huerta, Pat Kiernan, Tiara Jackson
Director/writer: Abel Ferrara
Cinematography: Ken Kelsch  (colour)
Music: Francis Kuipers
Designer: Frank de Curtis
Costumes: Moira Shaughnessy
Editor: Anthony Redman
Producers: Juan de Dios Larraín, Pablo Larraín, Peter Danner, Vincent Maraval, Brahim Chioua (Fabula, Funny Balloons, Wild Bunch in association with Bullet Pictures)
Chile/Germany/France/USA, 2011, 82 minutes

Screened: IndieLisboa Festival 2012, Culturgest, Lisbon, April 28th 2012

Wednesday, August 08, 2012

UNDER AFRICAN SKIES

That this feature-length documentary on the history of Paul Simon's classic 1986 album Graceland is helmed by respected documentarian Joe Berlinger sends a message. Mr. Berlinger is the author of the Paradise Lost documentary trilogy on justice in America and of the peasants vs. Big Oil lawsuit documentary Crude, as well as of Some Kind of Monster, the acclaimed documentary on metal band Metallica's therapy process. And the message his choice to direct Under African Skies sends is: this isn't going to be your average DVD puff-piece aimed at the hardcore Paul Simon fans. And it's not.

     Shaped as an oral history told by nearly everyone who was a part of the creative process around the making and performing of Graceland, Under African Skies uses the 2011 Johannesburg reunion of Mr. Simon with the cast of South African musicians who played on the album to contextualize the musician's daring but slightly irresponsible decision to combine his urbane, sophisticated songwriting with the urgent, celebratory music of black South Africa. Acclaimed as an outstanding piece of music upon its 1986 release, it soon attracted political controversy because Mr. Simon had deliberately ignored the cultural boycott going on at the time against apartheid-era South Africa to record on location with South African musicians - never mind that they belonged to the oppressed black majority.

     Mr. Simon insists his album was an apolitical plea for artistic understanding - somewhat disingenuous coming from someone so aware of a song's power to move or protest from his own past experiences with Simon & Garfunkel in the heady 1960s - but he does have a point in saying this wasn't a political summit but a pop record. In conformity, Mr. Berlinger structures the film as a dialogue between art and politics, music and society, symbolized in the lengthy conversation between Mr. Simon and Artists Against Apartheid head Dadi Tambo, where each tells his respective side of the story surrounding the album. Though the film never escapes the classic music documentary tropes, the amount of period footage and depth of interviews (beyond the crew and band involved in Graceland, David Byrne, Oprah Winfrey, Jon Pareles, Hugh Masekela, Philip Glass or Harry Belafonte contribute commentary) mean that this isn't just a hack job. Rather, it attempts an actual history of and meditation on the context and importance of a work of art in its time and place - and the songwriter himself is occasionally flustered at having to revisit a period that he readily admits was very "hurtful". As such, this is definitely not your usual talking-heads music documentary, and non-fans may even find something to chew on about the idea of the connections between art and politics.

Director: Joe Berlinger
Camera: Bob Richman  (colour)
Editor: Joshua L. Pearson
Producers: Mr. Berlinger, Jon Kamen, Justin Wilkes (@Radical Media for A&E Indie Films in association with Sony Music Entertainment/Legacy Recordings)
USA, 2012, 101 minutes

Screened: DVD, Lisbon, August 6th 2012


Tuesday, August 07, 2012

LA PRINCESSE DE MONTPENSIER (THE PRINCESS OF MONTPENSIER)

It's by now film history that the late 1950s/early 1960s Nouvelle Vague reared its head against the bourgeois conventions of the cinéma de papa - "daddy's cinema", the conventionally bourgeois, academic filmmaking of French journeyman directors. But, much as it tried, not only did the Nouvelle Vague generation not kill it, as some of its own members ended up directing films in that spirit (the ever-sarcastic Claude Chabrol comes to mind).

     Their contemporary Bertrand Tavernier was never a full member of that generation, but his often estimable career has always veered closer to the comfortably bourgeois cinema that the Nouvelle Vague questioned. La Princesse de Montpensier, his follow-up to the ill-fated American experience of the little-seen In the Electric Mist, is precisely that sort of old-fashioned "daddy's film": a period melodrama adapted from a 17th century novel about that most French of subjects, love, "the most annoying thing in the world" as someone says at the beginning.

     At heart, it's a coming-of-age tale of romantic education for the title character, Marie de Mézières (Mélanie Thierry), the stubborn, lovely daughter of a provincial nobleman whose arranged marriage, smack dab in the middle of France's religious wars of the 16th century, throws her into the centre of a veritable maelstrom of desire. There's the fiery, smirking desire of the impetuous, dashing soldier Henri de Guise (Gaspard Ulliel); the blind jealousy of the well-meaning husband she is married to, Philippe de Montpensier (Grégoire Leprince-Ringuet); and the quiet devotion of her husband's mentor, François de Chabannes (Lambert Wilson). But Marie's choices are not hers to make, and the tragedy Mr. Tavernier is looking to underline is that of a modern woman intent on following her heart's desires in a patriarchal society where she has no freedom to choose or to behave.

     The director's occasionally stodgy, non-descript yet always clear handling wouldn't be a problem if it weren't for the evident miscasting of the lovely Ms. Thierry: her porcelain beauty can't hide her inability to translate Marie's fiery passions, suggesting a more calculated and less voluble character than what the film is aiming for — a shame since the male cast is impeccable, especially the ever wondrous Mr. Wilson. Ms. Thierry's one-note performance ends up minimising a film that, for all its bourgeois, comfortable appearance, had in it the makings of a greater and more intriguing period piece.

Starring Mélanie Thierry, Lambert Wilson, Gaspard Ulliel, Grégoire Leprince-Ringuet, Raphaël Personnaz, Michel Vuillermoz, Philippe Magnan, Florence Thomassin

Director: Bertrand Tavernier
Screenplay: Jean Cosmos, François Olivier Rousseau, Mr. Tavernier, from the novella by Madame de Lafayette, La Princesse de Montpensier
Cinematography: Bruno de Keyzer (colour, widescreen)
Music: Philippe Sarde
Designer: Guy-Claude François
Costumes: Caroline de Vivaise
Editor: Sophie Brunet
Producer: Éric Heumann (Paradis Films, Studiocanal, France 2 Cinéma, France 3 Cinéma, Pandora Filmproduktion)
France/Germany, 2010, 140 minutes

Screened: distributor advance press screening, Zon Lusomundo Amoreiras VIP 1, Lisbon, July 30th 2012 


Monday, August 06, 2012

THE DARK KNIGHT RISES

Regardless of its own qualities, The Dark Knight Rises has the unwieldy task of having to live up to The Dark Knight, unarguably one of the strongest, smartest comic-book adaptations in the long history of the genre (if not the single best), an incendiary mash-up of super-hero adventure, socio-political commentary and adult, thoughtful moviemaking, driven by Heath Ledger's staggering incarnation of pure evil. Christopher Nolan's closing chapter of his Batman trilogy, therefore, suffers from the start from the heady expectations set upon it, and also from a super-sizing that ill serves its ambitions: bigger (nearly three hours long), louder (in this film, Gotham City itself is in danger), brasher, but not, sadly, better.

     Aware that people expected The Dark Knight Rises to rise to the same level of The Dark Knight, Mr. Nolan tried to have his cake and eat it too, attempting to fuse comic-book action with a topical commentary on the state of the world today: in a spooky echo of the Occupy Wall Street movement, Gotham City is taken to the brink of full-scale anarchy and annihilation by the stealthy strategies of villain Bane (Tom Hardy), while throwing Bruce Wayne/Batman (Christian Bale) into the deep end of a fabricated economic meltdown and still having to come full circle with the events narrated in his opening film Batman Begins. Too much for one single film, burdening The Dark Knight Rises with far too much backstory and layered meanings to make it into an easily digestible meal (unhelped by the much overrated Hans Zimmer's pompous, overblown score that never lets up for a second).

     Expectations do play a part in it, but so does, for instance, the absence of a villain as strong as the late Mr. Ledger's Joker. Mr. Hardy's Bane, a masked mercenary of uncertain origin and identity who seems to be anarchy incarnate, is a cypher that could have been performed by any actor, since he is but a physical presence and a modified voice that is given little or no personality. Also, Mr. Nolan's intimations of apocalypse as Bane turns Gotham City into an enormous death trap are never as chilling or as focused as the equivalent scenes in The Dark Knight (particularly the ferry-boat climax).

     But then, part of what made that film so impressive was the feeling the director was opening new doors and new pathways the comic-book adaptation had seldom explored. In the new film, he attempts to balance that with a more standard comic-book structure - introducing Anne Hathaway's slinky Catwoman as an ambiguous sidekick and Joseph Gordon-Levitt's ramrod straight policeman as a tantalising hint of a future hero, throwing Batman into an apparently despairing, insoluble problem, managing a somewhat disappointing (if conveniently ambiguous) race-against-time finale. It shows just how ambitious Mr. Nolan was for this wrap-up and just where said ambition stumbles and hits a brick wall. Needing to make every piece of the puzzle fit means that The Dark Knight Rises sprawls well beyond what it should, and in trying to be everything to everyone it stands as a good example of a good film that never reaches the greatness it's aiming for.

Starring Christian Bale, Michael Caine, Gary Oldman, Anne Hathaway, Tom Hardy, Marion Cotillard, Joseph Gordon-Levitt; Morgan Freeman


Director: Christopher Nolan
Screenplay: Jonathan Nolan, Christopher Nolan, from a story by Christopher Nolan, David S. Goyer
Cinematography: Wally Pfister (colour, processing by Technicolor, Panavision widescreen)
Music: Hans Zimmer
Designers: Nathan Crowley, Kevin Kavanaugh
Costumes: Lindy Hemming
Editor: Lee Smith
Visual effects: Paul Franklin
Special effects: Chris Corbould
Producers: Emma Thomas, Christopher Nolan, Charles Roven (Warner Bros. Pictures, Legendary Pictures, Syncopy)
USA, 2012, 164 minutes


Screened: distributor advance press screening, Cinemateca Portuguesa - Dr. Félix Ribeiro theatre, Lisbon, July 26th 2012. 



Saturday, August 04, 2012

JIN LING SHI SAN CHAI (THE FLOWERS OF WAR)

No better sign that Zhang Yimou is now China's official regime director than this exquisitely ornate yet soullessly formulaic old-fashioned war melodrama that seems custom-tailored to show Chinese filmmaking can be as lush and as crowd-pleasing as Western cinema. Mr. Zhang's luxuriant, stylized formalism is put to good use in this story set in 1930s Nanking, where selfish American mortician John Miller (Christian Bale), caught in the city during the Sino-Japanese war, ends up becoming the only shot at salvation for a dozen Catholic schoolgirls and a dozen sophisticated prostitutes taking refuge in a cathedral. The director uses every moody, lush trick he's learned in his previous work to bring to life the time-honoured dichotomy of war and love, destruction and hope, done with the utmost care and not without the occasional inspired moment.

     But as often as not, that attention to detail only highlights how The Flowers of War is a somewhat bewildering throwback to a certain type of film that has gone out of vogue about 50 years ago. The game cast does its best with what they're handed out, but what they're handed out is so archetypal as to be borderline ridiculous in its straight-faced, admirably naïve commitment to the war story rulebook. The absolute sincerity with which everything is presented cannot be easily dismissed, it's true, and Mr. Zhang still has quite a way with a camera. But you do feel that The Flowers of War is a film out of time that conforms to an image of the prestige blockbuster that has long gone out of fashion.

Starring Christian Bale, Ni Ni; Zhang Xinyi, Huang Tianyuang, Han Xiting, Zhang Doudou, Tong Dawei, Cao Kefan; Atsuro Watabe; Takashi Yamanaka, Shigeo Kobayashi; Paul Schneider


Director: Zhang Yimou
Screenplay: Liu Heng, Yan Geling, from the novel by Ms. Yan, The 13 Flowers of Nanjing
Cinematography: Zhao Xiaoding (colour, widescreen)
Music: Qigang Chen
Designer: Yohei Tanada
Costumes: William Chang Suk-Ping, Graciela Mazón
Editor: Meng Peicong
Producer: Zhang Weiping (Beijing New Pictures Film Corporation)
China, 2011, 140 minutes


Screened: distributor advance press screening, Zon screening room, Lisbon, July 24th 2012



Friday, August 03, 2012

ELENA

Former hospital nurse Elena (a wonderful Nadezhda Markina) is stuck between the devil and the deep blue sea. She is deeply in love with her husband Volodya (Andrei Smirnov), despite being for him little more than a glorified helper who runs the house and keeps tabs on his health. But she also finds herself having to support her ne'er-do-well, unemployed son Sergei (Alexei Rozin) and his suburban family, whom Volodya sees as living off his mother. The clincher, in Russian director Andrei Zvyagintsev's exquisitely modulated third feature, is Sergei's request for a hefty sum of money to make sure his teenage son avoids military service, overlaid on a heart attack that leaves Volodya ailing and wishing to reconnect with his own estranged daughter. Faced with a choice, what will Elena do?

   No prizes for guessing. Mr. Zvyagintsev slowly but inexorably sets up his tale as a moral mousetrap custom-tailored to Elena's dilemma, but he does so with the character's conscience fully awakened, as she realises that, regardless of her decision, the money-grabbing younger generation will always be disappointed, whether it's Volodya's urbane daughter Katya (Elena Lyadova) or her own boorish Sergei. Steeped in a very Russian melancholoy fatalism and crisply photographed by Mikhail Krichman in assured slow pans, Elena also shares some of the dispassionate but sympathetic observational qualities of the current Romanian new-wave. But this is, clearly, a beast all its own, smartly pointing out how the generation gap between those who know the value of money and those who don't has risen, framing it as a thoughtful morality tale impeccably performed by a small cast.

Starring Nadezhda Markina, Andrei Smirnov, Elena Lyadova, Alexei Rozin, Evgenya Konushkina, Igor Ogurtsov.


Director: Andrei Zvyagintsev
Screenplay: Oleg Negin, Mr. Zvyagintsev
Cinematography: Mikhail Krichman (colour, processing by Salamandra, widescreen)
Music: Philip Glass
Designer: Andrei Ponkratov
Costumes: Anna Vartuli
Editor: Anna Mass
Producers: Alexander Rodniansky, Sergei Melkumov (Non-Stop Production)
Russia, 2011, 109 minutes


Screened: DVD, Lisbon, July 29th 2012



Thursday, August 02, 2012

BERNIE

The latest left turn in director Richard Linklater's ever-surprising career sees the director take on a true story that seems to be perfect Coen brothers fodder: that of Carthage, Texas, funeral director Bernie Tiede, the town's most beloved and popular character, whose friendship with the recluse, curmudgeonly widow Marjorie Nugent ended up with him killing her from the back with four shots.  A small-town true story that ends up being stranger than fiction, Bernie becomes an excuse for Mr. Linklater to redeploy his "docu-fiction" device from Fast Food Nation into a kinda-sorta-fake-documentary where the central characters are portrayed by actors and actual Carthage residents are interviewed throughout and/or play their own roles as local folk.

     The result works two ways: as a study of a small-town "deep South" community, paying attention to its changing dynamics without ever condescending to the locals; and as an investigation into the concept of justice and its shifting territories in modern-day America. Bernie Tiede was so loved and respected by a community who grew wary and displeased with Marjorie Nugent that they would reason he must have had really good reasons to do something so out of character - to the point of blaming local public promoter Danny Buck Davidson for his arrest and conviction. On the surface a lively, quirky comedy, the film does touch upon the "heart of darkness" a lot of people feel in the "old South", and Mr. Linklater's smarts lie not only in blending well with Carthage's actual folk, but in choosing Jack Black for the role of Bernie. It's a tour-de-force performance that reveals whole new layers for an actor too often typecast in bumbling, confidence-trickster roles, but who disappears inside Bernie in ways you never imagined he could. It towers over everyone else in Bernie, especially since Matthew McConaughey's oily Texas lawyer gets little screen time and Shirley MacLaine's one-note performance as Marjorie offers the veteran actress little chance to stretch or shine.

     And that is also part of the question raised by Bernie: just how much are we allowing ourselves to be charmed by the seemingly perfect Bernie and how much are we projecting? That is part of Mr. Linklater's cleverness in building his thoughtful, unusual film.


Starring Jack Black, Shirley MacLaine, Matthew McConaughey


Director: Richard Linklater
Screenplay: Mr. Linklater, Skip Hollandsworth, based on Mr. Hollandsworth's Texas Monthly article "Midnight in the Garden of East Texas"
Cinematography: Dick Pope (colour, processing by Deluxe)
Music: Graham Reynolds
Designer: Bruce Curtis
Costumes: Kari Perkins
Editor: Sandra Adair
Producers: Celine Rattray, Martin Shafer, Liz Glotzer, Matt Williams, David McFadzean, Judd Payne, Dete Meserve, Ginger Sledge, Mr. Linklater (Mandalay Vision, Wind Dancer Films and Detour Filmproduction in association with Collins House Productions and Horsethief Pictures)
USA, 2011, 99 minutes


Screened: distributor advance press screening, Zon Lusomundo Colombo 9 (Lisbon), July 23rd 2012



Wednesday, August 01, 2012

MADAGASCAR 3: EUROPE'S MOST WANTED

It is rather surprising to find the name of The Squid and the Whale and Greenberg director Noah Baumbach as the co-writer of the third animated adventure about urban zoo critters in the wilderness, again handled by original directors Eric Darnell and Tom McGrath with the help of veteran Conrad Vernon. Not because it's an animation - Mr. Baumbach performed similar duties in Wes Anderson's Fantastic Mr. Fox - but because it's a bland, rather predictable and utterly dismaying film.

     The Madagascar movies have always followed the Dreamworks house style of rapid-fire, pop-culture stand-up comedy gags hanging off a threadbare washing-line plot, but at least the gags were funny and fast enough to keep one watching. This third episode does feature a more rounded plot, with the heroes stranded in Europe due to the penguins' gambling high-jinks and forced to whip a derelict circus run by a dreamy sea lion into Cirque du Soleil shape as their ticket back to New York City. But it's a sadly uninspired, tiresome, "let's put on a circus" plot that clashes loudly with the fizzy, fast-moving animation. You can sense Mr. Baumbach's preoccupation with family and belonging peeking through the script, but the film's forced jauntiness and breakneck rhythm basically drops any pretense at meaningfulness or character development; why bring in a noted screenwriter and then bury his contribution?

     It's all the more baffling as both the animation and the voice work remain pitch-perfect, with a couple of outstanding visual set-pieces worth the admission price alone, and an absurdist twist in the introduction of a new, Disney-ish villainess, the animal control officer who chases the animals throughout Europe voiced by Frances McDormand. Her over-the-top creepiness is such she becomes a bizarre comic relief, leading Madagascar 3 into a rabbit hole of brilliantly rhythmical offbeat nonsense that the remainder of the plot is, however, too muted and meek to support.

     What comes out of this is one of those films - so typical in modern-day Hollywood - that doesn't really have a reason to exist other than to fill the coffers of its producing studio. It's true that neither of the previous Madagascar films was brilliant, but in their own way they were lively, disposable time-passers. Third time out, however, is a strikeout, the loveliness replaced by a going-through-the-motions feel that suggest it's about time Alex the lion, Marty the zebra, Gloria the hippo, Melman the giraffe, Julien the lemur and all the others retired to live happily ever after.

With the voices of Ben Stiller, Chris Rock, David Schwimmer, Jada Pinkett Smith, Sacha Baron Cohen, Cedric The Entertainer, Andy Richter, Tom McGrath, Jessica Chastain, Bryan Cranston, Martin Short, Frances McDormand


Directors: Eric Darnell, Conrad Vernon, Tom McGrath 
Screenplay: Mr. Darnell, Noah Baumbach
Cinematography consultant: Guillermo Navarro
Music: Hans Zimmer
Designer: Kendal Cronkite-Shaindlin
Editor: Nick Fletcher
Producers: Mireille Soria, Mark Swift (Dreamworks Animation)
USA, 2012, 93 minutes


Screened: distributor advance press screening, Zon Lusomundo Colombo 1 (Lisbon), July 20th 2012