Quick Hits from Berlin, Part I: 8 films from top to bottom

Kevin Spacey Gets Toxic on Your Assets in “Margin Call”

Cheonggyecheon Medley: A Dream of Iron (dir. Kelvin Kyung Kun Park) Meet the Korean Werner Herzog – this documentary essay makes inspired riffs on the significance of iron in his family, his culture, his art. Mixes observational steel smithing footage with avant-garde interludes, set to a trippy Trent-Reznorish techno score.

Amnesty (dir. Bujar Alimani) A man and a woman, both struggling to get by as their spouses are locked up, meet during conjugal prison visits and end up sleeping with each other, though less out of love than out of a desperate rejection of where society has shunted them. Storytelling and performances are subdued yet compelling, though the cynically violent ending feels arbitrary.

Margin Call (dir. J.C. Chandor) Kevin Spacey, Jeremy Irons and Stanley Tucci bring their A game to a clunky script about 24 critical hours in a Lehman Brothers-like firm on the brink of setting off global financial collapse. Ensemble includes Simon Baker, Demi Moore, somewhat miscast Paul Bettany who for first half act like mice lost in a sterile lab of a corporate office setting. Considerably more impressive second half of executive decisions and alpha male showdowns.


“Art History” (dir. Joe Swanberg)

Art History (dir. Joe Swanberg) – Swanberg, polarizing progenitor of the amateur aesthetic, goes spelunking for the essence of on-screen sexual intimacy. But his overt stripping of artifice and embrace of naked spontaneity betrays a somewhat didactic impulse, whose outcome is not infrequently tedious.  If anything, it may be remembered for having one of unsexiest nipple shots in cinema.


Free Hands (dir. Brigitte Sy)Self-referential meta-film about a lady director making move about prisoners and falls in love with one. Genuine tenderness between leads (Ronit Elkabetz and Carlo Brandt, both great) at odds with generic rendering of prison setting and ensemble, suggesting the director’s abortive real life assignment had the same distended focus.


Silver Bullet (dir. Joe Swanberg) Aspiring actress falls out with an unpretentious B-movie director (Ti West) who’s the opposite of her angst-ridden filmmaker boyfriend (Swanberg). Swanberg’s self-reflexive auto-critique may be intended as his version of Jean-Luc Godard’s Contempt, and there are some sequences with real frisson in cutting and performances. But the psycho-sexual self-loathing gets to be as tedious as some of Ingmar Bergman’s more tedious ’60s efforts.


The Prize (dir. Paula Markovitch) Semi-autobiographical reflection of a child’s semi-derelict life with mother under the shadow of Argentine dictatorship. Ambitiously tries to convey an impressionistic, non-linear consciousness of childhood, though it’s undermined by murky overcast visuals and an invasive string score. Second half subplot where girl writes an anti-military entry for school essay contest brings narrative sharply to focus, but resolves into a near-ridiculous irony.

Utopians (dir. Zbigniew Bzymek) Fragments from the lives of a messed up makeshift family with ties to drugs, schizophrenia and post-war PTSD. One of those films where if you are feeling generous, maybe inept filmmaking reflects ineptitude of characters lives, but sorry, no sale. Two exceptionally badly directed scenes involving yoga undermine what feelings of charity could be bestowed on the off-kilter rhythms and blank stare camerawork of other scenes.

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