River Phoenix’s Final Film to Premiere at Miami International Film Festival

When River Phoenix died in 1993 at the age of 23 it was a tragedy—the life of one of Hollywood’s most amazing and beautiful young talents cut short. But as heartbreaking as the all too short life is, his legacy will be revived this year at the Miami International Film Festival when director George Sluizer debuts Phoenix’s the final film. When Phoenix passed away in 1993, Sluizer’s Dark Blood was 80% completed, and the unfinished footage disappeared into a vault somewhere. But in 1999, when he learned that the remains would be burned "to make space," Sluizer brought the film to the Netherlands. After a decade of stillness, Dark Blood was finally completed last year, premiering to a standing ovation at the Dutch Film Festival.

The film tells the story of: 

Jet-set Hollywood couple Harry (Jonathan Pryce) and Buffy (Judy Davis) travel through the desert on a second honeymoon, trying to save their marriage.  Their car breaks down in the middle of nowhere leaving them to find shelter in Boy’s (River Phoenix) beaten down shack, unaware they will become his prisoners.  Boy’s wife died of leukemia after nuclear tests occurred in the desert leaving him alone and far away from society.  Buffy is seduced by Boy’s honesty and vulnerabilities, while Harry represents everything Boy hates about the civilized world and its culture.  Buffy decides to sleep with Boy to buy the couple’s freedom, but these circumstances will push Harry to the edge, leading to a terrible tragedy.

The Miami International Film Festival, celebrating it’s 30th anniversary this year, will be held the first ten days of March and is "considered the preeminent film festival for showcasing Ibero-American cinema in the U.S., and a major launch pad for all international and documentary cinema." The Executive Director of the festival, Jaie Laplante states that, "Dark Blood is a film of legend, one of Hollywood’s great mysteries The tragic loss of River Phoenix’s outstanding talent is still profoundly felt 20 years later.  We are proud that George Sluizer has honored Miami as the place to finally share his remarkable collaboration with Phoenix and the other great artists involved.”

The complete line-up for the festival will be announced later in the month. 

The Movies We Hated In 2012

My colleague Hillary Weston and I see a lot of movies. Sure, we both loved a bunch of movies this year, such as the delightful Moonrise Kingdom, the biting Bachelorette, the lovely Beasts of the Southern Wild. But there were a few that we downright hated. While we don’t always agree on which movies were, in fact, the worst, here’s a brief list of the films from this year that drove us into fits of fury.

Prometheus

Ridley Scott’s sort-of-prequel to Alien left me with more questions than answers. For example, why did they hire Guy Pearce to play an old man instead of, I dunno, an actual old person? Would that automated surgery machine take my health insurance? What’s Michael Fassbender’s daily caloric intake? (It must not be too high.) What I did take away was this: there is no way that this has anything to do with Scott’s original masterpiece other than casually tossing around “Alien prequel” will gain a lot of buzz. I couldn’t have explained the plot of this movie five minutes after leaving the theater, and I had thankfully forgotten Prometheus until I decided to come up with the worst movies I’d seen this year. So there you have it, folks: Prometheus is completely forgettable until you try your best to think of things that are horrifically bad.—TC

To Rome With Love

Oh Woody, how I love thee. But just because you have spent your entire career putting out film after film—back to back every year for what seems like an entire century now—doesn’t mean you should allow yourself to be so sloppy. Honestly, I doubt he even liked it, as even Allen’s character felt like someone doing a bad impression of himself. (Larry David, Owen Wilson, and Will Ferrell have all played better Woody Allens.) And don’t even both trying to find anything intelligent or redeeming about the women that populate the picture. Ellen Page’s boyish waif seductress was, to borrow a term in just about every one of his movies, "a pseudo intellectual" who was both manipulative and hollow; Greta Gerwig was an oblivious and passive goof who was supposed to be an intellectual but looked like an witless idiot; Alison Pill’s character was about as bland and lifeless as the canvas pants they wrongly put her in; and even the brilliant and beautiful Judy Davis had absolutely nothing to work with. The whole Penelope Cruz hooker storyline was absurd and a narrative bore, the Roberto Benigni "comedic" meditation on celebrity and the ego was unbearable to watch, and the father-turned-opera-singer sideline was no better than this Flintstones episode. By far the best part of the film was when I left to get a jumbo box of M&Ms and had to spend five minutes searching for the candy attendant. —HW

Silver Linings Playbook

There’s at least one movie released every Oscar season that everyone but me seems to like. This year, David O. Russell’s choppy mess of a movie fills the Little Miss Sunshine slot. Furthermore, this is the first movie that has ever forced me to leave the theater early. What did I hate most? The over-the-top quirkiness of the script? The propensity for each character to explain his or her madness rather than convey them with their actions? The fact the last thirty minutes are better than the first hour-and-a-half, at least according to every person I know who claims I cannot judge it solely on the first two-thirds of the film? (Go watch The Godfather and try to tell me the same thing, folks.) I’ve never been so grateful for Jessica Chastain, who will surely quash Jennifer Lawrence’s shot at an Oscar next spring. —TC

Lola Versus

After seeing Daryl Wein and Zoe Lister-Jones’s sophomore effort, I recall writing down a few initial thoughts: "This movie has little to no genuine feeling. The dialogue was trite. The characters were like posed mannequins in an Anthropologie window attempting to tell a joke." And the worst part: even the wonderful and talented Greta Gerwig as Lola and a score by Fall On Your Sword could not save this shallow attempt at an anti-typical romantic comedy. The filmmakers are both young, intelligent people who have lived in New York for years, but I have to wonder: have they ever spoken to other humans? Every moment was contrived and two-dimensional, and it was filled with pathetic portrayals of wallowing that weren’t even accurate save for the lovelorn title character’s affinity for binge drinking and sleeping with people she would later regret. Lola chastises herself, saying "I know I’m slutty, but I’m a good person," even though it’s made clear that her ex was the only person she had slept with until they broke up, and then she sleeps with two other guys. Even the sparse scenes with her ex have absolutely no chemistry, and neither character exhibit qualities that would make you root for them not to wind up alone. All in all, it’s a film that apparently takes place in New York, but not a New York you’ve ever seen. —HW

The Dark Knight Rises

Here’s the thing: I knew I would hate this. But I had to see it, because to completely avoid the movie blockbuster of the summer would prove my own ineptitude at being a blogger. (And, as a blogger, it is my duty to share my opinions.) Christopher Nolan finally wrapped up his dour Batman trilogy with an overwrought political epic complete with as many of The Christopher Nolan Players as possible. Christian Bale brooding? Check. Tom Hardy being gay-question-mark? Yup. Marion Cotilliard for no particular reason? Uh huh. And leave it to Nolan to even strip away all the fun from Catwoman, who, as played by Anne Hathaway, is more like an old, unenthused tabby who only occasionally gets to ride some stupidly overdesigned motorcycle. Don’t get me started on the fact that it took a good forty-five minutes for Batman to actually show up; it was less of a superhero movie and more of a chance for Christopher Nolan and co-writer/brother Jonathan to an Oscar-clip monologue to every single character. —TC

The Paperboy

I don’t know why I expected more from the guy who interpolated shots of incestuous rape with images of bacon sizzling on a griddle in Precious, but I can say without wavering that The Paperboy was not just my least favorite film of the year—it’s also the worst movie I’ve ever seen. I’m all for a piece of well-made trash, but no amount of scrubbing would reveal a diamond under those layers and layers of shit. It’s misogynistic, homophobic, exploitative all around, and relies on the popular opinion that the South is a cesspool of murder, rape, racism, alligators—things that can only take place down there. And something must be said when Macy Gray delivers the best performance in a cast made up of Zac Efron, Nicole Kidman, Matthew McConaughey, John Cusack, and Scott Glenn. —TC

The Slow-Burn Talkie: ‘To Rome With Love’ Can’t Fulfill Our Modern Cinematic Desires

Woody Allen’s newest picture, To Rome With Love, contains plenty of the bread and butter ticks: witty complaining (courtesy of Allen’s own character, Jerry), Freudian line-dropping (see Jerry’s psychiatrist wife, played by Judy Davis), and any other kind of bullshit line-dropping (Ellen Page’s character takes care of those cringe-worthy nuggets). But it also seemed to offer what’s marked most of his Continental films as of late—a pleasantly low-stakes plot.

Less at play are the Crimes and Misdemeanors/Match Point moral meditations or the tight farcical narratives of Sleeper and Small Time Crooks. These recent films—Vicky Cristina Barcelona, Midnight in Paris—exist as much as vehicles for delightfully self-indulgent dialogue and gawking at European cities (Gaudí! Mansard roofs! The Coliseum is still standing!) as they do for traditionally enticing three-act stories. Which is all to say, I’m ready to eat this shit up, especially when every other movie this summer appears to have an explosion (or implosion) or a chase scene at every ten-minute beat.

Even amid the hype surrounding Pixar’s new feminist princess film Brave are murmurs that the studio overdid it on the frenetic tension in order to draw in otherwise uninterested ten-year-old boys. At least for the two-minute trailer, there’s really no break between climbing things, racing somewhere on horseback, or someone getting smacked with an axe. But I think it’s less a marketing ploy and more just the exercise of your standard Robert McKee screenwriting dogma—conflict, conflict, conflict!

Judd Apatow, from time to time, seems to get labeled a successful maker of “dudes hanging out” movies. But the recent media storm around Girls has seen plenty of mention of Apatow’s mastery at emotional tension when it comes to screenwriting. Lena Dunham, who certainly has Woody Allen at the tip of her pencil the whole way, might have had a less impactful show had she kept it as a clever chat session instead of heeding Apatow’s advice. But it’s an understandable temptation: I don’t like watching bad things happen to people. I think, how much nicer would it be to just observe the Algonquin table roam around Rome for an hour and a half?

And then I sit through a movie like To Rome with Love and am humbly reminded why it’s just so boring to watch characters you don’t care about recite over-written conversations.

One of the film’s four unrelated storylines, featuring a lost-cell-phone-induced separation of two innocent young Italian lovers and the hilarity that ensues, is fun and amusing, but the joy is lost in the long 102-minute waiting time for the end credits. The vignette for Allen’s own character, essentially a witty gabfest about why Allen is afraid of retirement, is perhaps justification for said fear, or at least evidence for why making a movie once a year is a rough goal. But the parts with Jesse Eisenberg and Ellen Page are ground zero for what was both aggravating and tiring about the movie. Greta Gerwig, who plays Eisenberg’s sweet but aloof girlfriend, essentially invites Page, a self-involved actress, to stay with them and seduce her boyfriend.Aside from the over-done dialogue, what kills it is the sense that all these characters are so narcissistic that even if their relationships fall apart it still won’t really bother them. Why root for them? Why not? Two hours later, it is what it is.

The final storyline with Italian actor Roberto Benigni, who plays a briefly and arbitrarily celebrated media darling, has drawn a kind of “like Celebrity but worse” reaction. But the images of paparazzi swarms in Rome also harken flashbacks to 8 ½, Fellini’s film about, among other things, what happens when an in-demand artist lacks inspiration. You can’t then but sense that Allen, between his wonderfully inventive, intelligent films like Sweet and Lowdown or Midnight in Paris, has powered through the less inspired periods with sit-down-start-writing-and-see-what-I-come-up-with films like Whatever Works or You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger.

The thematic end-note, if you want to call it that, comes from Benigni’s storyline: after he’s been dumped by the paparazzi, he launches into a fit looking for attention, and his old chauffer reminds him that it’s better to have a little fame than none at all. I wouldn’t question Allen’s sincerity, and for that matter, far be it from me to knock the career of one of the greatest auteurs of all time. And you sense at this point that he’s making these films to keep his hands busy just as much as anything, with no pretense for each one to be deemed a masterpiece. But if there is any strain in Woody Allen that’s producing a fear of cultural irrelevance, he’s going about it wrong. Just shed some dialogue and put in a couple explosions. Or Snooki and JWoww. Same thing.