DAY 1

LES REVENANTS (B-) -- (Incidentally, this is the festival of B's for
me, so brace yourself for lots of them.) This is an assured and
confident directorial debut, with the added bonus that it's about the
second scariest kind of zombies....French zombies! (The scariest being
AZs, of course.) The opening scenes had me primed for a movie that
never came to pass. With thousands of undead rising from the grave with
semi-functionality as human beings, city planners are worried about the
bureaucratic problems this presents: How does this affect the
workforce? Who's going to pay for the pensions? Etc. But then it goes
from intriguingly oblique to just plain oblique. It's an allegory for
sure, but you'll have to ask somebody else (Jeremy?) what the hell for.

CLEAN (B+)-- A conventional story to be sure, but Maggie gives a
performance that I haven't seen from her before-- she's not this cool,
enigmatic, delicate, graceful beauty, but a feisty, temperamental,
unhinged Yoko type with a damaged singing voice that reminded me of
Nico. Her relationship with Nick Nolte, terrific as her dead husband's
sympathetic father, is the film's most touching element, but mostly I
was struck by Assayas' ability to tweak expectations (a little anyway),
not to mention his usual facility with the camera and his cosmopolitan
taste.

DIAS DE SANTIAGO (C)-- "Somebody likes him some Marty," said my pal
Josh Rothkopf after coming out of this Peruvian debut, but if he hadn't
have spoken first, I'd have said some variation on the same line.
Knocking off Mean Streets and especially Taxi Driver directly or at
least in spirit, this director (I'm too lazy to dig up the name) wants
to make the sort of scrappy, personal pictures that defined Scorsese's
early career, but he doesn't have the chops yet to do it. But Peru is a
developing nation cinematically, and there are intermittent signs this
guy could develop along with it.

DAY 2

I [HEART] HUCKABEES (B+)-- David O. Russell makes an inspired return to
the manic screwball of Flirting With Disaster, only here the one-liners
and pratfalls revolve around abstract philosophical principles. It's
clearly the strangest, most audacious American comedy since Punch-Drunk Love, complete with another nice Jon Brion score, and Russell gets the most of quirky casting choices; Whalberg's apoplectic performance is a particular highlight.

ANATOMY OF HELL (C-) -- After three winners in a row (Fat Girl, Sex Is Comedy,
and especially Brief Crossing), I felt confident that Breillat
was getting closer to marrying her provocative sexual politics to
something resembling human behavior. Wrong. This was based on some
written material of her and the dialogue sounds like an essay read
aloud-- lots of lines like "the ocean, despite its misleading male
image..." or how the anus never lies. And then there are the visuals:
Playing around in bodily ooze a la A Very Young Girl, the 'ole
tampon-in-a-teacup bit made horrifyingly literal, and a garden tool
slipped into slumbering belle. After it was over, I cracked to Josh:
"Man, this woman can sleep through *anything*."

FINAL CUT: THE MAKING AND UNMAKING OF HEAVEN'S GATE (C+)--
Great DVD extra feature, but as a documentary, nothing special. Stephen Bach's
book remains my favorite account of the moviemaking process, so it's
always gripping to hear those same stories of massive production delays
(six days behind schedule after seven days shooting) and five-hour-plus
rough cuts. But it doesn't say anything particularly interesting about
the impact the film had on the studio system henceforth and Cimino
himself is conspicuously absent from the proceedings.

3-IRON (B+)-- As Mike D'Angelo had already written, this continues the
Zen formalist style established in Kim's Spring, Summer, et al., and
reveals his now total command over his effects. The story is slight,
but in the end, quite beautiful, melding the human and the spirit world
so seamlessly that the distinction between the two ultimately doesn't
matter. Funny, sweet, a bit minor, but accomplished. It may be time to
bump Kim into the Masters section (though with Paul Cox in there, maybe
it wouldn't be such an honor).

A HOLE IN MY HEART (D+)-- Lukas Moodysson, wha' happened? An hour and a
half of unrelieved, unredeemed ugliness that presumably says something
about celebrity, reality television, broken homes, degradation, and the
lot, but its extreme images are rarely countered by the humanist warmth
that endeared Moodysson to me in the first place. Imagine Harmony
Korine meets Darren Aronofsky meets "Jackass," and you get the idea.

DAY 3

TROPICAL MALADY (B+)-- This rating will probably go up on a second
viewing, since (a) I'll be sure to read up on my Thai mythology and
(b) the projectionist won't allow some light source to come streaming
down onto the screen, making the darker scenes (virtually the whole
second half) hard to make out. I'll confess to missing the enduring
sensuality of Blissfully Yours, but Joe extends his fusion of narrative
and experimental techniques to ever more daring and challenging
terrain. This is radical cinema, but he has such a lyrical touch that
it's more seductive than alienating. Thank goodness it has homoerotic
undertones; otherwise, I doubt it could find a distributor.

10e CHAMBRE, INSTANTS D'AUDIENCES (B)-- Comparisons to Fred Wiseman are
inevitable, but Josh put it best in priming me for this hugely
entertaining documentary: "It's like To Be And To Have crossed with
'Judge Judy.'" Basically what this movie is is a sequence of highlights
from a courtroom (a la Point Of Order) in which people defend
themselves in mostly minor cases, and usually talk themselves into a
corner. A couple of friends make the argument that Depardon subtly
indicts the judge as a control freak, but I thought she exercised sound
common sense in most cases. The film certainly leaves much for the
viewer to decide, however, since its narrative is basically structured
like a straight line stretching into infinity (or at least the 105
minutes it lasts).

THE WOODSMAN (C+)-- Thinking that an ongoing theme was developing on
extreme behavior (and then concluding too late that that's a theme in
*every* festival), I decided to skip a trio of reportedly excellent
Agnes Varda shorts for this Sundance also-ran, which sympathizes with a
child molester in the least provocative sense imaginable. Kevin Bacon,
the standout in the Mystic River ensemble for his unmannered
performance, turns into Mystic's Tim Robbins here, wearing his shameful
impulses and past deeds on his face like a sad clown. Engaging for much
of the way, with a particularly fine supporting turn by Mos Def, but
ultimately less daring than it needed to be.

NOBODY KNOWS (B+)-- Typical exchange between me and the naysayers.
Naysayers: "This is about 40 minutes too long. I mean, we get the kids
are resilient, so why keep repeating it over and over again." Me: "Yes,
but I think it's important that we *feel* the passing of time."
Naysayers: "Oh, we feel the passing of time, all right." Anyway, this
story of orphaned children coping on their own (led by a 12-year-old
who occasionally and tragically indulges his impulse to be a kid)
stretches over a loping 140 minutes, but Kore-eda's episodic approach
allows us to grasp their sad, inevitable devolution over time. The kids
are all magnificent, too.

DAY 4

SIDEWAYS (A)-- Finally, the festival begins. Payne works in broad
strokes sometimes: He has a big, generous sense of humor that people
might mistake for a lack of sophistication. But no comic director is
more subtle in his throwaway character details and exacting decor.
(Some day, I'd love to curate an Alexander Payne museum composed of
nothing but interiors from his movies.) This is the funniest movie of
the year and perhaps the most moving one, too. I can't remember the
last time a crowd-pleaser left me virtually speechless for about five
minutes afterwards.

NINE SONGS (C+)-- Slow down, Frostybottom. Had this film been
conceptualized more rigorously, it might have worked: The story of a
relationship told entirely in unsimulated sex scenes, intercut with
performance footage from the likes of Super Furry Animals, Elbow, Franz
Ferdinand, and others. I actually like the sex in the movie-- it's
kinky, relaxed, and intimate in an unpracticed, non-miserablist (e.g.
Intimacy) way. And I like the music, too. But what's all this crap
about Antarctica? And why shoot it all on ass-tastic DV? Yuck.

P.S. (B)-- I still don't know quite what this movie is trying to say,
and the ineffectual final reel offers no answers, but the snappy
dialogue and two magnificent lead performances by Laura Linney and
Topher Grace more than compensated. Since Traffic, I've been waiting
for Grace to get a chance to work his verbal magic and he curls his way
around Dylan Kidd's dialogue with much the same virtuosity of Campbell
Scott in Roger Dodger. It's also nice to see Linney's high-strung
performance tics get their best workout since You Can Count On Me; the
little downwards glance she gives Grace before their first sexual
encounter is the film's biggest laugh, at least until Grace's exuberant
line-reading after said encounter.

L'INTRUS (C-)-- This was crushing. At least last year's comparably
disappointing Lilya 4-Ever prepared me for this year's Moodysson whiff,
but Claire Denis' exquisite Friday Night led me to believe that she was
refining a pure, sound-and-image-based style that would only grow more
sophisticated over time. But with L'Intrus, she veers so far into
abstraction that a post-screening collective of five or six cineastes
couldn't squeeze any meaning out of it. At first, I was concerned that
maybe I just didn't get it or perhaps I'd fallen asleep for an hour
without knowing it, but this seemed to go over everybody's heads. Some
characteristically gorgeous images, especially when this globetrotting
fractured narrative winds up in the South Seas, redeem it a little. But
overall, a big WTF?.

MILLIONS (B-)-- Danny Boyle's brief love affair with DV is over, thank
Christ, but all his considerable technical whiz-bangery can't hold this
whimsical moral fable together in the end. Still, plenty of scattered
delights along the way, and certainly more sophisticated and funny than
the average family film.

BAD EDUCATION (B?)-- Truth be told, I nodded off for a few brief (and
likely crucial) stretches during this one, through no fault of
Almodovar's. My decision to cut soda out of my diet has limited my
caffeine intake to nil, so nights with little sleep make for dodgy
screening days. In any case, Almodovar is still working at the top of
his game, effortlessly weaving storylines on multiple planes into a
cohesive and undoubtedly personal statement about his life and art.
Still, I think this lacks the depth and seriousness of Talk To Her,
though I'll need a second viewing to confirm this suspicion.

KEANE (A-)-- Rosetta. Okay, with that obvious touchstone out of the
way, Lodge Kerrigan's new one refines the first-person schizophrenia of
Clean, Shaven with startling, laser-like precision. A surprising number
of walkouts (in the press screening, mind) for a film this singularly
gripping, but I think people were uncomfortable to share such a tight
space with a man so completely unhinged. For me, that's what makes the
film exhilarating-- we never know what he's capable of doing at any
given time, but behind his raw volatility is a loss so profound that
he's doomed to relive it at every moment.

THE HOLY GIRL (B+)-- It took me until the last 20 minutes or so to
realize just what an accomplished film this is. Lucretia Martel works
so carefully to establish the world of the film-- a medical conference
at a family-run hotel-- that the film appear at first to lack focus. We
feel like we should be experiencing the girl's coming-of-age from a
more fixed perspective, but Martel allows an entire constellation of
characters to affect the action. And the ending, in its refusal to
deliver the expected payoffs, is a masterstroke.

DAY 6

THE SEA INSIDE (C)-- I thought we had an understanding, Alejandro.
You'd provide me with slick, suspenseful, gimmicky thrillers like The Others
and Abre Los Ojos and I'd overlook the arid thematic wastelands
under their surface. And yet here you go making the blandest melodrama
imaginable, trying like hell to make a paraplegic confined to a bed
seem remotely cinematic. However, that sniffle you hear is from Oscar,
who was very moved.

CINQ FOIS DEUX (B+)-- In five chunks of time, arranged in reverse
chronology, Ozon tracks a couple from the end of a marriage to the
beginning of a courtship, with pointed stops in between. I took this
film to be a potent critique of hetero relationships, which are
dictated by rules to which neither partner can comply. The structure is
akin to starting with a collapsed house and revealing the termites that
were eating at the foundation from the Day One. For anyone who's ever
reflected on a past relationship and wondered when the seeds of its
destruction were laid, this should be resonate (though maybe not
specifically, unless you're a two-timing jerk.)

PALINDROMES (B)-- I'm dubious of Todd Solondz, but this one worked me
over, perhaps because its heroine-- a blinkered 12-year-old determined
to have a baby-- is his first wholly sympathetic character to date. (So
too is Mama Sunshine, a fundamentalist Christian mother who adopts the
runaway into her household of innocent young Tod Browning castoffs.) I
guess I'm not supposed to spoil the central gimmick-- hint: it's
actually has little to do with palindromes-- but I will say that it
makes you think about the difference between character and performer,
and how much we do or do not rely on actors to bring continuity to a
narrative. As always, Solondz uses the pen and camera like blunt
instruments, but his dialogue often made me chuckle. (Favorite line:
"Wait here for five minutes. I need to buy some ZIP discs.")

DAY 7

TOUT DE SUITE (C+)-- Has the makings of something great: A
black-and-white, lovers-on-the-lam picture, set in the disco '70s, and
directed by Benoit Jacquot, who's never made a movie I haven't liked.
And yet after a promising start sends two bank robbers and their
smokin' hot bourgeois babes on the run, Jacquot totally runs out of
ideas. The last half basically involves the heartbroken heroine sinking
into bitchy catatonia while nice people help her for some reason. Yawn.

OLD BOY (A-)-- The best example of pure cinema in the festival—a highly
charged mega-revenge story shot through with eye-catching color
composition, sadistic violence, and a twist so cold-blooded that I
laughed out loud. I know people are appalled that a movie this
frivolous (and yes, maybe a little tasteless) could take the Grand
Jury Prize at Cannes, but I like the idea of filmmaking itself taking
primacy over all other concerns. If there's a healthy development out
of Cannes 2004, it's that all films and all genres are created equal,
and sometimes purely sensual experiences exceed high-minded,
"important" ones.

EROS: Wong Kar-Wai (C+), Steven Soderbergh (B), Michelangelo Antonioni
(F)
-- I always love the idea of omnibus movies, but I can't think of
one that's wholly successful. (Though I'm hearing good things about
Three...Extremes, a horror triptych by Takashi Miike, Chan-Wook Park,
and Fruit Chan.) This is less salvageable than most, with Wong spinning
his wheels in an overly precious (and slight) story of a courtesan, her
tailor, and an awesome handjob, Antonioni going off the rails with an
uproariously stupid dirty-old-man story that's somehow not introduced
by David Duchovny, and Soderbergh saving the day with a snappy middle
piece that's funny and refreshingly anti-sexy.

KUNG FU HUSTLE (B)-- Others flipped over Stephen Chow's latest in
CGI-driven broad comedy and hijinks, but I didn't find it appreciably
better than Shaolin Soccer, the only other Chow I've seen. A great
start got me primed for a cross between The Warriors, Drunken Master,
and a Golden Age musical, but the film turns out to be a little less
inspired, though always entertaining. Chow plays to the back row, but
he's a great painter with visual effects and the whole thing has a
plasticity that allows just about anything to happen at any given
moment.

MYSTERIOUS SKIN (B)-- The first Gregg Araki movie I've liked, though
only by a nose. As with Nowhere and Splendor, Araki's style continues
to get more sophisticated and even seductive over time, and his stories
and characters are not quite as hyperbolic, either. The film divides it
time between two young men trying to come to terms with a shared past,
but one thread (with Joseph Gordon-Leavitt, who's terrific) is so much
more interesting and real than the other, it's too bad Araki didn't
focus on it entirely.

KINGS AND QUEEN (A-)-- After breaking form with the singular Esther
Kahn, Arnaud Desplechin is back to his old tricks in this one, which
reigns in his My Sex Life... excesses (glorious as they often are) for a
more disciplined and emotionally direct, yet no less adventurous and
discursive drama. The novelistic structure and strong central
performances allow him the freedom to scribble around in the margins
(lots of flashbacks, unexpected leaps in tone, et al.) without losing
his grasp on the whole. I entered this two-and-a-half hour film
reluctantly at the end of an ass-busting six-movie day, and it
immediately wore down by defenses.

DAY 8

PRIMER (A-)-- An achievement at any cost, but astounding at $7,000,
this hard sci-fi movie represents homemade moviemaking at its most
resourceful and idea-driven. The last 30 minutes are impossible for me
to fully decipher (at least for now), but it makes sense given a
situation where the ramifications are as infinitely terrifying as the
apocalypse. I expect Shane Carruth to a be major filmmaker; I'll take
his garage aesthetic over James Fotopoulos' any day. Check back on this
missive in a few years to see how right I am.

LOS MUERTOS (C-)-- Opens with a mesmerizingly abstract shot of the
forest in close-up, swooping around and around to reveal two small,
bloodied bodies on the ground and a figure carrying a machete gliding
across the corner of the frame. We assume the prisoner we track through
the rest of the film had something to do with this incident--someone
mentions him killing his two brothers-- but director Lisandro Alonso
doesn't follow up on it. In fact, he's not really interested in
anything but naturalism for its own sake, which means dull, endless
takes of this dude eating or paddling downriver and a lot of
maddeningly oblique suggestions, including a final shot that still has
me scratching my head.Land Without Bread was worth the goat. This
ain't.

YEAR OF THE YAO (C+)-- I'll say this upfront: Yao Ming may be my
favorite athlete in any sport ever. On the court, he's a lithe, 7'5"
center who came to America with an impossibly delicate passing and
shooting touch, yet has adapted quickly to the NBA power game. Off the
court, he's a charismatic and good-humored ambassador for the sport who
can shoulder the mammoth expectations of the playoff-hungry Houston
Rockets and a country of over one billion. This slick, officially
sanctioned documentary doesn't offer any grand revelations about Yao
(other than his so-so opinion of Taco Bell) or his interpreter Colin
Pine, but in reliving his glorious rookie year, it gave me the
experience I was hoping for.

DAY 9

THE WORLD (B+)-- This is the first Jia film I've liked, though I'm not
quite ready to join the revolution yet, given his continued weakness
for loose-limbed narratives and navel-gazing young characters. But
Platform's theater-as-life premise gets a much more affecting workout
here, mainly due to the ironic and ultimately poignant setting-- a
Beijing theme park featuring famous landmarks from around the world.
("The Twin Towers fell on 9/11, but we still have ours!")
OMAGH (B-)-- I'm probably being too hard on this docudrama, which moved
many in the press screening to righteous applause, but I feel like I've
seen too many movies about the Troubles (In The Name Of The Father and
Bloody Sunday, specifically) that are more forceful, perhaps because
they center on such powerful characters. Bloody's Paul Greengrass
co-wrote and produced, but the first-time director doesn't match the
urgency of his verite style, though it's still a moving and dignified
film, bound to be resonant in this post-9/11 climate.

DAY 10

CELLULAR (B)-- Can't really add much to the praise this lean-and-mean
B-movie has received in discriminating circles. After seeing Phone
Booth, I wondered what that movie would have been like had someone
other than Joel Schumacher overdirected it; lo and behold, here it is,
a tight 95-minute thriller that throughly exploits the title gizmo's
strengths and limitations. ("Don't go under the tunnel!")

SKY CAPTAIN AND THE WORLD OF TOMORROW (B)-- A pleasant surprise, given
its status as a star-laden, big-budgeted blockbuster pushed out of the
summer season. The old-fashioned matinee serial trapping are only one
sign that the director worships at the alter of Spielberg and Lucas,
but as anyone who has seen a frame of this film can attest, it's
retro-futurist CGI universe is one-of-a-kind. I wish the characters had
more dimension (the normally reliable Jude Law seems particularly out
of sorts), but the images are a wow. The scene in which Gwyneth Paltrow
meets the scientist at a Wizard Of Oz screening is particularly
gorgeous.

SAW (D+)-- Retarded but fun, especially with the whooping Midnight
Madness crowd. This is basically a cross between Se7en and "Fear
Factor," a gimmicky serial killer movie where victims/contestants are
challenged to free themselves in Xtreme stunts. Cary Elwes gives the
worst performance in a movie since Ashton Kutcher in The Butterfly Effect;
I could watch him whimper like a little girl all night without
getting tired of it.