The critically-acclaimed, Oscar-winning No Country For Old Men comes to DVD this week, accompanied by a litany of fellow Fresh films (Lake of Fire, Summer Palace, Dan in Real Life) as well as a gaggle of critical duds (Hitman, Bee Movie, August Rush, and more).


No Country For Old Men

Tomatometer: 94%

Joel and Ethan Coen add another celebrated film to their resume with this four-category Oscar-winning thriller about a bag of stolen cash, a man on the run, the killer on his tail, and the old lawman desperately trying to make sense of it all. While we’ll get no commentary track on this initial DVD release (just wait for the inevitable super-sized special editions), three features comprise the bonus menu, but the film itself is its own reward — just ask those Academy voters.

Bee Movie

Tomatometer: 54%

Jerry Seinfeld‘s bid for post-Seinfeld success came last year in the form of a honeybee: a neurotic, rather Jerry-esque bee named Barry Bee Benson, to be exact, who leaves corporatized hive life for the great big world of humans in New York City’s Central Park. When Barry discovers that humans have been stealing the hard-earned honey of his buzzing brethren, he takes the most American action there is — he sues the human race. With a supporting voice cast that includes Chris Rock, Renee Zellweger, Patrick Warburton, and Matthew Broderick — and cameos by Sting, Ray Liotta, and Oprah WinfreyBee Movie is full of that familiar Seinfeld sardonic humor, although, as the critics say, it’s fairly forgettable.
Dan in Real Life


Tomatometer: 66%

Steve Carell‘s trademark hangdog deadpan finds appropriate anchor in this romantic comedy from Peter Hedges (Pieces of April). Carell stars as Dan, the widowed father of three girls who writes an advice column for a living; when Dan meets his dream girl (Juliette Binoche) during a family get-together, he’s elated — until he learns she’s his brother’s new girlfriend. A soundtrack by Swedish singer-songwriter Sondre Lerch underscores Dan’s comic heartache, though some critics found the script to be occasionally too flat and contrived. A decently packed bonus menu with director commentary, deleted scenes, and outtakes round out the disc.

August Rush


Tomatometer: 38%

Freddie Highmore, Britain’s omnipresent kid actor, stars as a musically-gifted orphan on a quest to find his birth parents — and exposure any and every person he meets along the way to the magic of music. Sound schmaltzy enough for you? Well, throw in Robin Williams (channeling his doppelganger, U2 front man Bono) as a musical street pimp named Wizard, salvation in the form of a choir, and lines like “The music is all around us. All you have to do is listen,” and you’ve got one heckuva a saccharine smorgasbord.

Nancy Drew


Tomatometer: 48%

If, like some of us, you were an avid fan of the Nancy Drew mystery books — over 170 stories published under the pseudonym “Carolyn Keene” since 1930 — then you might have felt some apprehension when a feature-length film about the classic sleuthing teen was announced. Unfortunately for us purists, the reviews confirm those fears. Emma Roberts stars as the titular teen, whose prudish, Type-A manner clashes with the spoiled kids she encounters when she and her dad (Tate Donovan) move to Tinseltown. A Hollywood mystery surfaces, of course, but grown audiences will remain unspooked. I say, bring on the Choose Your Own Adventure movie instead!

Sleuth


Tomatometer: 36%

The gimmick of casting this cat-and-mouse thriller is intriguing on its own; having starred as a young adulterer opposite Laurence Olivier in 1972’s Sleuth, Michael Caine now plays the older role opposite Jude Law in Kenneth Branagh‘s remake. Unfortunately, the script by Harold Pinter, adapting Anthony Shaffer’s play, fails to serve the two leads well, making for a tedious time — unless you enjoy watching two distinguished British actors out-act one another. Law, Caine, and Branagh make recompense in a jointly recorded commentary track in the special features.

 

Hitman


Tomatometer: 15%

With a title like Hitman, you know what you’re getting into with this video game adaptation from French director Xavier Gens (Frontier(es)). Timothy Olyphant stars as a bar coded professional killer named Number 47 dealing with his sinister bosses, a Russian politico, and a hot prostitute (Olga Kurylenko) on the run. Overwhelmingly derided by the critical set, who might alternately recommend the film to a PS2-obsessed pre-teen boy, Hitman at least serves one purpose: bringing you a closer look at future Bond girl Kurylenko half a year before Quantum of Solace hits theaters.

Lake of Fire


Tomatometer: 94%

When Nirvana covered the Meat Puppets’ “Lake of Fire” in their Unplugged album session, they sang that the Biblical body of water was “where bad folks go when they die.” In his sprawling documentary on abortion, director Tony Kaye brings us a comprehensive look at the often violent, always vehement hot button debate that has raged for 25 years since Roe vs. Wade. Kaye, who filmed the doc over a period of 17 years, is the same director who earned Hollywood’s praise for directing the 1998 skinhead drama American History X (then disappeared from view following his bitter falling out with New Line and star Edward Norton). Be warned that Lake of Fire contains graphic images; a commentary with Kaye accompanies the DVD.

Summer Palace


Tomatometer: 70%

A young rural woman gets accepted to Peking University and encounters sexual awakening, politics, and discontent against the backdrop of the Tiananmen Square protests in controversial director Lou Ye‘s epic drama. Actress Hao Lei gives a brazen performance as the film’s restless protagonist, who spends over two decades (the late 1980s to the 2000s) struggling to get over the lost love of her life. At over two and a half hours, Ye’s film could be split into two stories — one of the young woman and another of her adult years) — but his film captures the zeitgeist of an entire generation forever marked by Tiananmen-era experiences, at times recalling the verve of Godard and the French New Wave. Shown in competition at the Cannes Film Festival without government approval, the sexually-explicit film was subsequently banned in China, its filmmakers censured from further filmmaking for a five year span.

 

So there you have your new releases for this week. In the words of the ancient Romans, “Amicule, deliciae, num is sum qui mentiar tibi?

This week at the movies, we’ve got monster mayhem (Cloverfield,
starring
Michael Stahl-David), marital mishaps (27 Dresses, starring
Katherine Heigl), and heist hilarity (Mad Money, starring
Diane Keaton
and Queen Latifah). What do the critics have to say?

A sort of
Blair Witch Project
crossed with
Godzilla
,
Cloverfield
tells the story of a monster invasion in Manhattan through
the eyes — and lenses — of a group of twentysomethings. And critics say it’s
one of the most intense cinematic offerings of the new year. The film begins at
a going-away party for Rob (Michael Stahl-David). Just as the festivities get
into full swing, a crisis grips the borough; it turns out a creature is on the
loose, and the partygoers wade out into the terrifying urban landscape,
recording the bedlam on their camcorders. The pundits say Cloverfield may
be a gimmicky take on old monster movie tropes, but it’s also economically
paced, stylistically clever, and filled with scares. At 70 percent on the
Tomatometer, Cloverfield is a monstrously fun time.




"Stay Puft Marshmallow Man again?”

In
27 Dresses

Katherine Heigl plays a woman who’s
always a bridesmaid, never a bride. The movie’s looking for some love, too —
from the critics. Heigl plays Jane, a selfless gal who’s never met the right
guy, and whose best friend is about to marry the object of her unspoken
affections (Ed Burns); good thing there’s a better guy (James Marsden) in the
general vicinity. The pundits say although everything that happens in 37
Dresses
is what you’d expect — check that, exactly what you’d expect
— Heigl is good enough to make one wish she was in a better movie. At 24
percent on the Tomatometer, Dresses is getting critically annulled.




Katherine Heigl in The Namesake: The Reckoning.


Mad Money
has such a delirious premise — three
average Janes decide to knock over the Federal Reserve — and such a talented
cast (Diane Keaton,
Queen Latifah,
Katie Holmes) that one might be tempted to
believe the movie is a hilarious girl-power-flavored romp. No such luck, say
critics. Money is the story of a down-on-her-luck housewife (Keaton)
whose husband has just been laid off; after taking a job at the fed bank, she
meets some compatriots who are willing to join her in lifting bills that are to
be removed from currency. While pundits say Money is without a few
laughs, it lacks the sharp edge and bounciness to pull off a caper comedy of
this sort. At 21 percent, Mad Money is not garnering mad props.




Queen Latifah’s words fall on deaf and plugged ears.

Also opining this week in limited release:


  • Taxi to the Dark Side
    ,
    a documentary about the Bush administration’s torture policy, is at 100 percent.

  • Indonesian import
    Opera Jawa
    , a
    phantasmagoric folk musical, is at 100 percent.

  • A restored
    Last Year at Marienbad
    ,
    Alain Resnais‘s
    still-divisive meditation on the persistence of memory, is at 89 percent.


  • Still Life
    ,
    Zhang Ke Jia‘s
    quiet docudrama about romance in the midst of Chinese modernization, is at 83
    percent.

  • Teeth,
    a horror/comedy about a teenage girl with killer genitalia, is at 82 percent.

  • Lou
    Ye
    ‘s controversial
    Summer Palace
    , about the
    lives and loves of a group of college students in the days before Tiananmen
    Square, is at 58 percent. (Check out our review from Cannes 2006
    here.)

  • Woody Allen‘s latest,
    Cassandra’s Dream, starring
    Ewan McGregor and
    Colin Farrell
    as brothers in dire financial straits, is at 35 percent.

  • And
    Day Zero
    , a drama about three young men who have
    been drafted and are off to war starring
    Elijah Wood and
    Chris Klein,
    is at 17 percent.




    "You really think Manhattan Murder Mystery is
    overrated?”

And finally, props to
SplendidIsolation and
Meatcake, as
each of them correctly guessed that
In the Name of the King: A Dungeon Siege
Tale
would wind up at three percent on the Tomatometer. In the name of Uwe
Boll, I give thee props.
 

Recent Diane Keaton Movies:

————————————-

5% —
Because I Said So
(2007)

53% —
The Family Stone
(2005)

69% —
Something’s Gotta Give
(2003)

13% —
Town and Country
(2001)

12% —
Hanging Up
(2000)

The Toronto International Film Festival has a lot of movies that are making their premieres, but some have screened at Sundance and Cannes. Read on for our RT reviews from the archives.

Of the movies we saw at Cannes, "Borat" (or, as it is now subtitled, "Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan") has made the biggest splash in Toronto. It’s been critically well received, and its tasteless, uproarious humor has delighted (and in some cases, divided) audiences at the festival. Read our review here.


Sacha Baron Cohen as bad (and offensive) as he wants to be in "Borat."

In addition, we have reviews of the Scottish thriller "Red Road (review)," the anthology film "Paris, Je T’aime (review)," the dark Norwegian dramedy "Lights in the Dusk (review)," Lou Ye’s "Summer Palace (review)" (which has gotten the director in a heap of trouble in China), and the haunting, half-animated "Princess (review)" each of which screened at Cannes and are getting looks here. And saw the punk documentary "American Hardcore (review)" at Sundance, and interviewed filmmakers Paul Rachman and Steven Blush.

BEIJING — China has banned acclaimed director Lou Ye from making movies for five years as punishment for sending his "Summer Palace" to the Cannes Film Festival without government approval in May, official media reported Monday.

Lou, who previously suffered a two-year blacklisting in 2000 for his Rotterdam Film Festival winner "Suzhou River" (HR 7/18), could not be reached for comment.


students in love in "Summer Palace"

In a telephone interview, the film’s French co-producer called the decision by the State Administration of Radio Film and Television "shameful." "I am very sad that the Chinese public will not be allowed to see the fantastic love story," Sylvain Bursztejn, the head of Paris-based Rosem Films, said. Love story, sure, but it was the film’s backdrop which caused trouble with the censors who refused to review it for approval for Cannes, claiming the print submitted was of poor quality. In May, the director and producers said this was a groundless excuse by the state, used to avoid addressing the film’s content. (Jonathan Landreth) [Thanks to the Hollywood Reporter for the news item.]

"Summer Palace" was screened at the 2006 Cannes Film Festival. Click here for a review of the film from our editor Tim Ryan. It’s also getting mixed reactions from Variety and Hollywood Reporter.

Here are some short reviews of films screening at the Cannes film Festival:

Early in "Red Road," Jackie (Kate Dickie), who works in surveillance for the police, notices the ghostly image of a man on her screen. We know instantly he means something to her, and we get the idea he’s done bad things. Jackie starts poking around his neighborhood, in a rough section of Glasgow, getting ever closer to the man. What heightens the suspense of Andrea Arnold‘s film is that it keeps its secrets until very late in the game; when these characters run into each other, it’s nearly impossible to predict what they’ll say. "Red Road" (screening in competition at Cannes) is a tense, fascinating film, Hitchcockian in the best sense, and filled with convincing characters and an aching poignancy at the center of its mystery.


Scene from "Red Road"

Koistinen, the hero of Aki Kaurismaki‘s "Laitakaupungin Valot (Lights in the Dusk)," has the sad-sack, put-upon expression of a silent comedian. He also says about as much ("I can tell you have rock ‘n’ roll in your bones," a date sardonically tells him). Unlucky, unhappy Koistinen (Janne Hyytiainen) works as a security guard, and he is ignored or taunted by his co-workers (and by those he’s supposed to be securing places from). One night he meets a beautiful woman, who seems to kinda like him, but it becomes quickly apparent she’s playing him too. "Dusk" (screening in competition) is a comedy, but a very, very dry, slow-moving one; if you can take the deliberate pacing and the desperate scenario, you will have a small comic gem on your hands.


Scene from "Summer Palace"

Ye Lou’s "Summer Palace," (in competition) tells the story of a group of Beijing college students during the heady days before the Tienemen Square massacre. Yu Hong (a haunted-looking Lei Hao) leaves behind her small town for college, and begins a passionate, combustible relationship with Zhou Wei (Xiaodong Guo). For the first half, the film is a sharp take on college life with all its insecurities and idealism; it’s also pretty erotically explicit. (The pop songs on the soundtrack, which include Toni Basil’s "Mickey" and Paul Evans’ "Seven Little Girls," create a hypnotic mood). Once our protagonists graduate, however, the film shifts gears, focusing primarily on Yu Hong’s increasingly bleak love life and her endless pining for Zhou Wei, with diminishing results. While it contains visual riches, the second act of "Summer Palace" is far too slow to maintain the interest the first half of the film achieves almost effortlessly. Still, there is much to admire in "Summer Palace," even if the operative word is "much."


A scene from "Lights in the Dusk"

The easiest way to describe "Princess" might be that it’s like a cross between "V for Vendetta" and the works of graphic novelist Phoebe Gloeckner. This half-animated, half-live action film about a wise-but-damaged five-year-old and the uncle who vows to protect her, has moments of real beauty — as well as scenes that are unutterably painful to witness. (It’s screening in the Director’s Fortnight category). August becomes the guardian of Mia, who lives in a brothel after her mother, a porn star, has died. After watching home movies of life with his sister (which includes footage of their parents’ fatal car crash), August declares war on the distributor of her films. Those grainy, live-action home movies bespeak of a fragile, tumultuous familial bond, and the relationship between August and Mia (presented in an Anime-influenced style) is touching — even as they become partners-in-revenge. "Princess" is not a fun film (and I’m not sure the vigilante angle ultimately works), but it has an agonizing power.

Check out Day Two of Tim, Jen and Senh’s Cannes adventure! "The Da Vinci" dud was soooo yesterday — we’ve moved on to "Summer Palace," beach parties, and adult-themed animation!

We’ve also added photos to Day Zero‘s entry (intrigue and drama on the high — er, winds) and plenty of shots from around the festival grounds to give you a sense of the glitter and hullabaloo that Cannes is known for.

The biggest hype around town seems to be for "X-Men: The Last Stand" — not only have they decorated the Croisette with individual character flagpole banners, they’ve also got a huge marquee directly across from the Palais de Festival, detailing each of your favorite mutants "stand"-ing in their ranks.

You can also peruse photos from our first Cannes party at the Majestic Beach, where we channeled our inner Euro-star personas with drinks on the beach and yachts in the background. It’s no wonder Cannes is one of the glitziest festivals around!

More Cannes coverage here.

Day one of the Cannes Film Festival has begun, with last night’s opening screening of "The Da Vinci Code," and the next eleven days promise even more glitz, big names, and world cinema on the Croisette’s famed red carpet.

Ron Howard’s "The Da Vinci Code" kicked things off last night, with its multi-national cast and global buzz proving sure indicators of what’s to come. The early word circulating around town, however, is less than glowing; some say the subsequent screenings of the religiously controversial big budget flick may not be too hard to get into, after a disappointing reaction opening night. Stay tuned for Tim Ryan’s review and press conference coverage in the coming days.

"Da Vinci" disappointment aside, the fest still has a slate of intriguing and highly buzzed-about films coming up, from Hollywood, Europe and beyond. Chinese director Lou Ye’s "Summer Palace" has already earned the notoriety of being banned in that country, and will make its Cannes debut later this evening.

The global community is indeed well represented — naturally, the films and audiences at the Cannes Film Festival reflect the program’s prominence as the most highly regarded fest in Europe and, arguably, the entire world. Many highly touted foreign directors have entries In Competition, including Aki Kaurismaki ("Laitakaupungin Valot", Guillermo del Toro ("Pan’s Labyrinth"), and Ken Loach ("The Wind That Shakes The Barley").

Richard ("Donnie Darko") Kelly is back in the limelight with "Southland Tales," a futuristic comedy sci-fi musical (!!) starring The Rock, Sarah Michelle Gellar, Seann William Scott, and a whole lot of other Hollywood stars.

Another young Hollywoodian with a film in competition is the Goddaughter herself, Sofia Coppola. Her "Marie-Antoinette," starring Kirsten Dunst and Jason Schwartzman, has already earned fans with its awesome, pop-driven trailer.

With "Fast Food Nation," Gen-X fave Richard Linklater has an ensemble including Patricia Arquette, Ethan Hawke, and Greg Kinnear warning the health consequences of Big Macs and Super Sizes. Catalina Sandino Moreno also stars, pulling double duty at Cannes — she also carries the Walter Salles-directed segment in "Paris, Je’Taime" (screening under Un Certain Regard). That film, a twenty-part ode to the magic of the City of Light, is a charming compilation of segments by twenty of the world’s leading filmmakers, including Alexander Payne, the Coen brothers, Gus Van Sant, Isabelle Coixet, and Wes Craven. "Paris, Je’Taime" was screened Day One; look for a review soon.

All of this is but a fraction of the entire Cannes selection, which includes over 50 films from 30 different countries in multiple categories. Highlights of the full schedule include Rolf de Heer’s Aboriginal tale, "Ten Canoes;" Linklater’s "A Scanner Darkly;" "Daft Punk’s Electroma;" Bong Joon-ho’s "The Host," from South Korea; Anders Morgenthaler’s adult-themed animated feature, "Princess;" William Friedkin’s "Bug;" a whole slate of classic films; and of course, Out of Competition screenings of "X-Men: The Last Stand," "Clerks II," "Over the Hedge," Johnnie To’s "Election 2," and John Cameron Mitchell’s "Shortbus."

For a complete list of films at Cannes, check out our Rotten Tomatoes Eat France! special feature for daily updates, news, reviews, and photos from our team at the festival!

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