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The 67th Annual Cannes Film Festival - Coming Home - Premiere

Huiwen Zhang (l), Gong Li (r) and director Zhang Yimou - The 67th Annual Cannes Film Festival - Coming Home - Premiere - London, United Kingdom - Wednesday 21st May 2014

Gong Li
Gong Li, Huiwen Zhang (l) and Zhang Yimou

2014 Film Independent Spirit Awards Arrivals

Gong Li - 2014 Film Independent Spirit Awards Arrivals celebrating independent films and their filmmakers - Santa Monica, California, United States - Saturday 1st March 2014

Gong Li
Gong Li
Gong Li
Gong Li
Gong Li

The 2014 Film Independent Spirit Awards arrivals

Gong Li - The 2014 Film Independent Spirit Awards arrivals - Los Angeles, California, United States - Sunday 2nd March 2014

Gong Li
Gong Li
Gong Li
Gong Li

Farewell My Concubine Review


Weak
Chen Kaige cemented his international film credentials with the lush Farewell My Concubine, which presents a compendium of his expressionistic techniques and thematic concerns (striking imagery, fluid camera, emotional intensity, and, also, simple-minded historicity, banal character development, and an uninvolving narrative line).

Kaige's film charts the course of a unique romantic triangle that would even give Frank Borzage pause, following the relationship of two boyhood friends over half a century of turbulent Chinese history. After being abandoned by his prostitute mother at the Beijing Opera training school, young Douzi (Ma Mingwei as a child, Yin Shi as a teen, and Leslie Cheung as an adult) soon makes friends with the cocky Sitou (Fei Yang as a child, Yin Zhi as a teen, and Zhang Fengyi as an adult), and they both provide emotional support for the other as they undergo the grueling and pitiless opera school training that finds them, as adults, as the female and male role stars of the Beijing Opera. However, at the height of their fame, Sitou (now known as Duan Xiaolou) announces his intent to marry the sex-bomb prostitute Juxian (Gong Li). Douzi's (now known as Cheng Dieyi) obsessive jealousy and immediate dislike for Juxian leads him into the creepy arms of opera patron Yuan (Ge You) and to seek solace in opium-induced stupors. As the years pass and the old friends became increasingly estranged, they are finally, during the Gang of Four years, forced to publicly denounce each other as counter-revolutionaries. The result is humiliation and tragedy.

Continue reading: Farewell My Concubine Review

Curse Of The Golden Flower Review


Weak
A pageantry of pageantry that would put Bertolucci or Lean to shame, Zhang Yimou's The Curse of the Golden Flower piles spectacle upon spectacle, and tragedy on top of tragedy, until the whole contraption fairly disintegrates under the fervid weight of it all. Normally this wouldn't really be an issue, as late period Yimou films like House of Flying Daggers and Hero have been perfectly acceptable as period-piece baubles, rife with dynamic wuxia action sequences and dashing costumes -- things that Golden Flower has in abundance. While packed with emotion, those earlier films could certainly be enjoyed on surface detail alone, but there was still some heft to them; one doesn't buy for a second that Zhang Ziyi could fight like that without some help from gravity-defying wires, but the films were still able to dance that line between escapism and drama without leaving either behind. But Golden Flower can't dance.

Set in a royal court during the 10th century Tang dynasty, Golden Flower starts in and spends most of its time inside those same palace walls; which at first doesn't seem like a bad place to be. The place is a bejeweled rainbow of color, splashed with sunlight that sparkles off the golds, reds, and greens, and the camera greedily prowls its corridors looking for fresh spectacle. Yimou starts off with a feverishly choreographed ballet of servitude as hundreds of courtiers ready themselves in synchronized grace for the arrival of the long-traveling Emperor Ping (Chow Yun-Fat, regally villainous). His three princes await him, each curious about how and if he is going to divide up power between them, as his health seems to be in decline.

Continue reading: Curse Of The Golden Flower Review

Hannibal Rising Review


Terrible
As bad as Hannibal Rising is -- and believe me, it's terrible - this fictional biography of the beloved Dr. Hannibal Lecter could have been worse. After all, financing studio MGM and its assorted producers could have tossed a small fortune at Sir Anthony Hopkins in hopes of coercing the Academy Award winner back to the title role -- never mind the fact that the picture covers the cannibal's formative years.

The Lecter character has appeared in five different films now, which by my count is four too many. Brian Cox gets credit for first playing the imprisoned killer in Michael Mann's underrated Manhunter. But Lecter didn't become a household name until Hopkins sank his teeth into the role for The Silence of the Lambs. Since then, Hollywood has strained its muscles beating every dollar it could from this dead horse of a character. We've endured the Jodie Foster-free sequel Hannibal and Red Dragon, an unnecessary Manhunter remake with Hopkins in the Lecter role.

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Hannibal Rising, Trailer Stream Trailer


Hannibal Rising
Trailer

Continue: Hannibal Rising, Trailer Stream Trailer

Curse Of The Golden Flower Review


Weak
A pageantry of pageantry that would put Bertolucci or Lean to shame, Zhang Yimou's The Curse of the Golden Flower piles spectacle upon spectacle, and tragedy on top of tragedy, until the whole contraption fairly disintegrates under the fervid weight of it all. Normally this wouldn't really be an issue, as late period Yimou films like House of Flying Daggers and Hero have been perfectly acceptable as period-piece baubles, rife with dynamic wuxia action sequences and dashing costumes -- things that Golden Flower has in abundance. While packed with emotion, those earlier films could certainly be enjoyed on surface detail alone, but there was still some heft to them; one doesn't buy for a second that Zhang Ziyi could fight like that without some help from gravity-defying wires, but the films were still able to dance that line between escapism and drama without leaving either behind. But Golden Flower can't dance.

Set in a royal court during the 10th century Tang dynasty, Golden Flower starts in and spends most of its time inside those same palace walls; which at first doesn't seem like a bad place to be. The place is a bejeweled rainbow of color, splashed with sunlight that sparkles off the golds, reds, and greens, and the camera greedily prowls its corridors looking for fresh spectacle. Yimou starts off with a feverishly choreographed ballet of servitude as hundreds of courtiers ready themselves in synchronized grace for the arrival of the long-traveling Emperor Ping (Chow Yun-Fat, regally villainous). His three princes await him, each curious about how and if he is going to divide up power between them, as his health seems to be in decline.

Continue reading: Curse Of The Golden Flower Review

Miami Vice Review


Terrible
You can learn a lot about Michael Mann's updated Miami Vice by listening to Glenn Frey. It's true. Many questions surrounding this remake are answered using the lyrics to Frey's prophetic "Smuggler's Blues," a song made famous by the seminal 1980s buddy-cop drama that sold sex and sidearms on South Beach.For instance, why would Mann - a respected filmmaker riding a decade-long creative hot streak - blow the dust off a hopelessly dated property he last executive-produced almost 20 years ago? As Frey sings, "It's the lure of easy money. It's got a very strong appeal." And why would a studio support Mann's impulsive let's-get-the-band-back-together decision after projects from Bewitched to The Dukes of Hazzard demonstrate that audiences don't care to relive the past? Frey confesses, "It's a losing proposition. But one you can't refuse."In its prime, the television-sized Vice influenced the fashion industry, peddled synthesizer-laden soundtracks, and made Don Johnson a household name. This realistically superficial recycling, however, will cure insomnia, set the advancement of digital cinematography back a few years, and unsuccessfully argue in favor of the mullet as an acceptable coif style.The story lost me almost immediately, but looked cool doing it. Undercover detectives James "Sonny" Crockett (Colin Farrell) and Ricardo Tubbs (Jamie Foxx) are deep into one case when a former informant contacts them claiming that a deal he was working went bad. To clean up the mess, Crockett and Tubbs must infiltrate a sprawling drug cartel lorded over by menacing Jose Yero (John Ortiz, mimicking Al Pacino's Tony Montana character) and sultry Isabella (Gong Li, her broken English disrupting half of her lines).Vice marks a return for Mann in multiple ways. He's back on the beach with Crockett and Tubbs, characters he last manipulated in 1989. More importantly, it's the director's first mature cops-and-robbers thriller since 1995's Heat, a modern classic which also presented an in-depth analysis of individuals operating on opposite sides of the law. Part of Heat's allure, though, was the intimate knowledge we collected about Pacino's bulldog detective and Robert De Niro's elusive thief. Watching the former sacrifice his marriage and family life for the sake of the job added juicy drama to his otherwise routine investigation.Vice lacks that human touch, those insights into the men away from their beats. Mann ladles on ample attitude, while his chiseled leading men provide plenty of posturing. Mannequin Vice might have made for a better title. Foxx and Farrell buy into the shout-and-scowl method, with an emphasis on the latter. But the script neglects to fill in details about Sonny and Ricardo beyond quick peeks into their active bedrooms. It's a fault built into the premise. These men exist deep undercover, so the lives they lead are smokescreens - which makes it difficult to care whether they continue to blow smoke or not.As a whole, the stiff and procedural Vice moves too slowly to hold our interests. It's a thinking-man's summer picture, code for "no action, plenty of conversation." Normally that's fine, but Mann pens lines that would have been too cheesy even for the '80s program. Crockett repeatedly claims, "No one has ever treaded where we are now." We just don't believe him. One villain barks, "He wants to promise them silver, but pay them in lead!" James Bond's foes made more effective threats.Oscar-winning cinematographer Dion Beebe continues to experiment with digital technology at Mann's request. It works when the action shifts to the open seas, but his night shoots produce muddy visuals that - while realistic - are ugly and drab. I guess when compared to the original Vice's pastel color scheme, it's an improvement.Frey once again gets the last words. I'm paraphrasing a few of his somber lyrics so that they properly sum up how I felt leaving my screening. I'm sorry it went down like this, and the audience had to lose. It's the nature of this business. It's the critic's blues.Watch that wake!

Eros Review


Grim
A triptych of short films, all on the subject of eroticism, sounds tantalizing, so it's too bad none of the shorts contained in Eros actually hits its mark. This despite the fact they were separately made by three of the most renowned directors of the past 40 years: Wong Kar Wai, Steven Soderbergh and Michelangelo Antonioni. What they manage in their individual shorts in Eros are but minor variations on themes and aesthetics already well explored in their own full-length films.

Wong Kar Wai's bluntly titled "The Hand" and set in his recurring milieu of early '60s Hong Kong, follows Zhang (Chang Chen), a humble tailor's apprentice, over his years-long infatuation with a beautiful socialite-turned-prostitute, Miss Hua (Gong Li). Kar Wai's treatment is aesthetically fussy, in keeping with his well-known style, but dramatically bland. There simply isn't much at stake here as the timorous Zhang must be content with the, ahem, hand jobs (see title) he receives all too rarely from the object of his infatuation. Now, hand job scenes (even in non-porno cinema) can be extremely erotic because of what they offer and what they only tease at (for a convincer, see the relevant scene in Michael Heneke's otherwise awful The Piano Teacher. Wow!). In any case, the segment's manually operated pseudo-erotica provide the only spike in an otherwise indolent story that never substantially conveys its central concern: Zhang's steady sexual awakening and his unshakeable devotion to an unavailable woman. Still, Kar Wai's fabulously crafted sound and imagery are both par for the course for this director and his world-class cinematographer, Christopher Doyle.

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Memoirs of a Geisha Review


Grim
The only thing which director Rob Marshall doesn't throw into Memoirs of a Geisha is a torch song in which the heroines can lament their sad fates; it might have been an improvement if he had. Adapted from Arthur Golden's 1997 bestselling novel, the film is about Sayuri, a young girl in pre-war Japan sold into servitude at a Kyoto okiya, or geisha house. Although interesting as drama, the book was beloved for its depiction of this long-gone culture's intricate rituals, and the grueling training and subterfuge which the geisha indulged in to succeed. Since much of that material is better suited for the page than the screen, the film blows up the book's more melodramatic moments (and there were plenty of them) into a cliched soap opera of thwarted love, backstabbing and really pretty outfits.

Marshall gives the film, especially its early scenes where Sayuri (Ziyi Zhang) gets schooled in the hard-knock ways of the okiya, a goodly amount of sound and fury that has more than a hint of Spielberg to it (the original director of the project, he stayed on as producer). Having one of the world's most photogenic period settings, Marshall makes all that he can of it, and the results are astonishing. This is a film of fluttering cherry blossoms and dark alleyways lit by paper lanterns, where all houses have their own deftly-maintained garden and everyone is dressed to the nines. The problem is that no amount of amped-up drama or pretty window-dressing can make up for the fact that the phenomenally talented cast has been stuck with hackneyed dialogue to deliver in English - a first language for none of them.

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Farwell My Concubine Review


Good
If you've seen one Chinese period piece, well, you'll probably feel like you've seen Farewell My Concubine, a lush epic that traces 50 years in the lives of a pair of Beijing Opera stars.

Overlong and overwrought, our heroes (played by Leslie Cheung and Fengyi Zhang during their adult years) find themselves undergoing the torture of opera training during the 1920s, find fame and fortune on the eve of the Japanese occupation during WWII, find themselves outcast as traitors following the communist revolution in the 1960s, and try to make a comeback as a kitschy nostalgia play in 1977. Zhang takes the butch role of the king in the titular opera, while Cheung plays like a girl. Bisexuality is hinted at, never shown. Beatings are plentiful, as is that semi-off-key Chinese operatic warbling (which, I might add, gets old after 2 1/2 hours...)

Continue reading: Farwell My Concubine Review

Zhou Yu's Train Review


Weak
Zhou Yu's Train is a movie in motion. By the time it's over, you'll have seen a good deal of rural China, not to mention a corner of Tibet. As Zhou Yu (Gong Li) rides the rails back and forth between her two boyfriends, you'll feel her confusion and her wanderlust, but you'll feel boredom and a little motion sickness, too.

A young and beautiful woman who doesn't know what she wants out of life, Zhou Yu seems to think that as long as she keeps moving, she won't have to make any tough decisions. She uses the time off from her job painting ceramics to travel hundreds of miles twice a week to visit her boyfriend, Chen Qing (Tony Leung Ka Fai), a librarian who writes and recites florid love poetry.

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