The Screening Room Blog
Tuesday, September 30, 2008
Music and murder in Paolo Sorrentino's 'Il Divo'

(LONDON, England) -- Murder to music is rarely done as artfully as in the opening sequence of "Il Divo," Sorrentino's biopic of seven-time Italian Prime Minister, Giulio Andreotti. The subject matter may be highly political but, this is no stodgy, historical drama.

For a pure emotional hit, the opening sequence may even compete with Scorsese's classic "Jimmy's murder spree" sequence set to "Layla" in 1990 gangster film "Goodfellas."

In "Goodfellas" the piano exit from Clapton's "Layla," performed by Derek and the Dominos is laid over scene after scene of horribly disfigured corpses in a pink car; a garbage truck; a meat locker; and the sequence drips with the melancholy sense of the end of an era.

In complete contrast but packing just as much cinematic punch, the opening sequence of "Il Divo" unfolds to an exhilarating slice of new wave-tinged disco house, "Toop Toop," by French electro duo, Cassius.

The track overlays a sequence of shootings, staged suicides and, finally, an extraordinary slo-mo aerial shot of a crushed car dropping into a pit and exploding.

The first assassin we see walks towards his intended, the track breaks down and all we hear is the boom, boom, boom of the bassline which is perfectly synchronized to his footsteps as if it's his heartbeat. As he starts to shoot the track kicks back in.

A great example of the power of pop music in the movies -- and it's as compulsive as stamping on bugs.

What are your favorite music moments in the movies?

-- From CNN's Mairi Mackay

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Monday, September 29, 2008
'The last 11 minutes were among the best of my life.'
The last 11 minutes were among the best of my life.

The Screening Room team had just spent the morning on Sugarloaf Mountain waiting for Jesus to pop his head through the clouds across the valley for the closing shot on our report on Brazilian cinema -- when another kind of miracle happened.

Our Rio-based fixer Renata told us that a friend of hers was a fan of the show and by great fortune she ran a helicopter company, and that if we took the cable car down to the next mountain within the next ten minutes there would be a chopper on the helipad waiting to take us for a quick spin across the skies above Rio.

After two solid days of rain we were blessed with blue skies as we flew over some of the 700 slums, known as favellas, whose ramshackle shacks and rough brick buildings cling improbably to the hillsides -- the favellas may be poor but they are renowned for having the best views in the whole city.

We circled over Maracana Stadium -- the great cathedral for Brazil's second religion alongside Catholicism -- football. Once 200,000 people used to worship within these walls, but the flock has now been reduced to a mere 100,000 because of safety rules and seating.

Then the flight continued steeply upwards over forested mountains and suddenly we were buzzing the beard of a certain J. Christ, struggling to resist the exclamation "Jeee-zus" as we drank in the breathtaking sight.

Beneath his outspread arms the Saviour looked down on the Citade de Deus and the beaches of Copacabana and Ipanema and maintained his expression of benevolence.

During the past few days we have witnessed some of the world's swankiest hotels located just across the street from some of the world's most dangerous slums -- and we have met the directors who have illustrated these contrasts in their films.

Looking back at all this, it would be easy to imagine the Christ statue's outstretched arms turning into a shrug of exasperation.

The chopper finally turned and descended back towards the Sugarloaf and the minibus waiting to take us to the airport and back to London, leaving a city behind which has left the deepest impression on me and my colleague Myleene.

-- From CNN's Neil Curry


Marco Pontecorvo's 'Pa-Ra-Da'

(LONDON, England) -- Your father is Gillo Pontecorvo -- author of one of the greatest postwar Italian films, "The Battle of Algiers," (for more on this film and other greats of Italian cinema click here) which won the Golden Lion at Venice Film Festival in 1966 -- that's got to be a pretty tough reputation to live up to.

Marco Pontecorvo's response to this unnerving familial overachievement is a debut film based on the true story of a clown who moves to Bucharest, Romania and starts a circus with streetkids as performers.

"Pa-Ra-Da" was one of the films that wowed critics at Venice this year.

It is the true story of the French-Algerian clown Miloud Oukili who went to Romania in 1992, three years after the end of Ceausescu's dictatorship. There he met Bucharest's "boskettari" or street children, living underground and making a living out of petty theft, begging and prostitution.

Miloud felt the need to bring hope to the tragic lives of the boskettari and he created a circus company with the children. "Parada" is the name of the circus company that today still travels around Europe with it's own show carrying a message of hope and solidarity.

It's a touching story but what made Pontecorvo think it could be a successful film?

"First of all it was something that I say it couldn't happen in the real life," he says, "As soon as I knew a little more I found out there were elements I think for a drama and for a movie ... there was a dream of the protagonist to save them and to save himself."

Pontecorvo has worked for many years as a cinematographer but felt compelled to tell this story himself: "There are stories that I feel closer to and I wish to tell personally."

For more on "Pa-Ra-Da" watch or subscribe to The Screening Room podcast.

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Thursday, September 25, 2008
Pacino poster in painful ad pairing

(LONDON, England) -- Ad planners take meticulous care picking the sites for their glossies, making sure that their artwork reaches the right people, at the right time, in the right place.

But sometimes, one slips through the net.

Reports of a blogger's photograph apparently showing the unfortunate placement of a poster for the Pacino/De Niro comeback vehicle, “Righteous Kill,” at Stockwell underground station in London, England have made people wince. The inappropriate juxtaposition might not be immediately apparent – until you see the movie’s tagline:

“There’s nothing wrong with a little shooting as long as the right people get shot”

For those in the know, it’s a painful pairing: Stockwell station was the site where unarmed Brazilian electrician Jean Charles de Menezes was shot dead by police, who mistook him for a suicide bomber. The shooting led to the Metropolitan Police’s prosecution under health and safety law.

The offending posters appear to have been quickly removed. But, as London newspaper The Guardian comments, “Suddenly that tagline starts looking a little less funny.”

Have you seen any other inappropriately placed posters or unfortunate juxtpositions? Let us know below.

-- From CNN's Linnie Rawlinson

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Wednesday, September 24, 2008
Scott Thomas glows in Claudels 'I’ve Loved You So Long'

(LONDON, England) -- To my mind, one of the advantages of a film where not much happens (as opposed to wham bam big budget explosion-fests) are the insights into characters and situations that can be revealed when the camera is still.

“I’ve Loved You So Long,” by French director Philippe Claudel, is such a film -- an understated yet graceful study of a family thrown into awkward chaos.

Kristin Scott Thomas plays Juliette, a haunted soul with a dark secret that threatens to unravel the carefully constructed perfect life of her sister, Lea (Elsas Zylberstein).

Estranged from each other for fifteen years, Lea welcomes Juliette into her Ikea-decorated, ‘Benetton’-colored, Volvo-toting lifestyle -- somewhat naively, in the opinion of her husband (Serge Hazanavicius). But slowly, we see Lea’s faith in her sister bear fruit: freed from physical incarceration, and helped by others along the way, Juliette begins to release herself from her mental prison.

Kindness is perhaps the most underrated virtue. Claudel demonstrates a deft touch at portraying gentle, everyday events and above all else, the human kindness that protects and supports Juliette as she returns to life. And in a mundane setting, the director tackles some of life's biggest questions: is there room for rehabilitation when one has committed an act so terrible? Is redemption ever truly possible, even given the most promising of circumstances, in a case like this?

There have been Oscar murmurings around Scott Thomas's performance, and they're not undeserved: she brings a stillness and a malevolent wit to her role. I’ve always felt that her greatest strength is her expressiveness, especially with her body, and in “I’ve Loved You So Long,” she speaks from her bones, spiking them with pain; her eyes a window on the fragmented tragedy Juliette desperately tries to mask. As her character walks a tightrope between salvation and despair, she switches fleetly between poised feline elegance and grotesque contortions, thrown up in stark contrast to her cosy, refined surroundings.

It's not just the luminous Scott Thomas, nor Zylberstein, who lets Lea’s dogged love for her sibling shine through. The sets and the town of Nancy glow with a soft light, and likewise, though Juliette's backstory is one of despair, anguish and torment, Claudel suffuses her tragic story with hope. Far from depressing, “I’ve Loved You So Long” shows that love and laughter can bloom even in the darkest situations -- and that, no matter what, as long as we let it, life goes on.

-- From CNN's Linnie Rawlinson

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Friday, September 19, 2008
Who should star in in Walter Salles' 'On the Road'?
LONDON, England -- This week, I had the luck to meet Brazilian filmmaker and one of the leaders of the revival in fortunes of Latin American film, Walter Salles, who was in London promoting his latest film "Linha de Passe," which he co-directed with Daniela Thomas.

Set in Sao Paulo, the film is a beautiful, if bleak story of four brothers from four different fathers and their pregnant, chain-smoking, heavy-drinking mother. They are part of Brazil's vast underclass and are -- in their own ways -- all struggling to beat destiny and forge a different, better future for themselves.

What's really interesting about this film in the context of Brazilian filmmaking right now is that it refuses to glamorize the violence of favela life in the way that films such as "City of God" and this year's "Elite Squad" could be said to.

Instead of super-saturated colors and jerky editing, "Linha de Passe" takes a more meditative turn with Salles focusing on the lives and characters of these five people. The grey skies and washed-out palette complement the seemingly hopeless social obstacles they face every day.

I met Salles in Covent Garden and he told me how much he loves London because he gets a chance to see friends, like composer Philip Glass, who he had breakfast with before we met.

Salles struggled through his jetlag saying: "Making a film is like running 1,800 meters and launching a film is like running a marathon." He was completely charming and talked extensively about "Linha de Passe," as well as his upcoming adaptation of Jack Kerouac's cult 50s novel, "On the Road" with Francis Ford Coppola, off the back of his success adapting Che Guevara's early journal in the "The Motorcycle Diaries."

I asked him about the difficulties of adapting such a cult novel and if he's confident he can satisfy the book's dedicated fans.

"That is the same question I had to ask myself when I adapted 'The Motorcycle Diaries,'" he said, "Because obviously there were so many followers of Ernesto Guevara ... and [I tried] to do it in the most authentic manner, and try to be as faithful to the essence of the book as I could, so this is what I will try to bring to 'On The Road.'"

He wasn't giving away much about who he has in mind to play the two lead roles in the film. When I asked him if he had any ideas, in the collaborative way that has made him such a star of Latin cinema, he said, "Not yet, you wanna help me?"

So let's lend Salles a hand: Who do you think should play Sal Paradise and Dean Moriarty in "On the Road"?

Linha de Passe is out in UK cinemas now.

-- From CNN's Mairi Mackay

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Thursday, September 18, 2008
Five Latin American films recommended by Walter Salles
LONDON, England -- I asked Walter Salles which five Latin American films he would recommend watching. Here are his suggestions in no particular order:

1. 'Leonera' (‘Lions Den’)
(Pablo Trapero, 2008)
Another prison movie, but a very smart one, starring Argentinian Trapero's wife, Martina Gusman. She plays Julia, a pregnant woman, perhaps wrongly incarcerated for a murder. The film follows her years in a wing for mothers and babies and her battle to keep son Thomas inside with her. Trapero's battle is to keep clichés at bay, and through subtle camerawork and Gusman's acting, this is done grippingly.

2. 'Blindness'
(Fernando Meirelles, 2008)
Dramatic thriller adaptated from José Saramago's 1995 novel about a society suffering an epidemic of blindness. Written by Don McKellar, the film stars Julianne Moore and Mark Ruffalo. Saramago originally refused to sell the film rights, scared that they would fall into the wrong hands, but Meirelles was able to acquire them on the condition the film would be set in an unrecognizable city.

3. 'La Mujer sin Cabeza' ('The Headless Woman’)
(Lucrecia Martel, 2008)
A woman perhaps runs over a dog on the highway and, possibly as a result, suffers her own injury. Dazed and forgetful, she wanders through her newly defamiliarized routine, engaging in all manner of impulsive behaviour, always with a gracious smile and quizzical air. For her third feature, the Argentine director of "La Ciénaga" and "The Holy Girl" has created a comedy of disassociation. "La Mujer" is typically dense often funny and, no less than the protagonist, the viewer is compelled to live in the moment.

4. 'Memorias del Subdesarrollo' ('Memories of Underdevelopment')
(Tomas Gutierrez Alea, 1968)
Hailed as one of the most sophisticated films ever to come out of Cuba in the early days of Castro's revolution, the film is visionary Cuban director Alea's tour de force. Sergio's wife, parents and friends have all left Cuba in the wake of the Bay of Pigs incident. Alone in a brave new world, Sergio feels the constant threat of foreign invasion while chasing young women all over Havana. He finally meets Elena, a young virgin girl he seeks to mould into the image of his ex-wife, but at what cost to himself?

5. 'Terra em Transe' ('Land Entranced')
(Glauber Rocha, 1967)
Rocha once said, "Brazil is a carnival that must be destroyed" and in this film he takes the notion to heart with a stunning assault on the corruption of the Brazilian bourgeois ruling class in the wake of the country's 1964 coup. Focused on the conflict between a populist governor and a right-wing dictator set in the fictional country of Eldorado, the film’s delirious camerawork and operatic scope brilliantly convey Brazil’s "permanent state of madness."


Help us pick the best Asian film ever

LONDON, England -- We are trying to find the best Asian film of all time. This is the list we came up with and there has been fierce debate in the comments on the story. It is great to see that interest in Asian film is going strong!

Here is our provisional list -- it's definitely a work in progress and in no particular order so, let us know what you think by clicking here to go into the story on and leaving a comment at the bottom of the story.

'In the Mood for Love' ('Fa yeung nin wa') Hong Kong/China
(Wong Kar-Wai, 2000)
Wong was heavily influenced by Hitchcock's psychological thriller "Vertigo" during the making of this poetic, exquisitely shot meditation on love and loss starring Tony Leung and Maggie Cheung. It was nominated for the Palme d'Or at the Cannes Film Festival in 2000.

'Mother India' ('Bharat Mata') India
(Mehboob Khan, 1957)
One of the sub-continent's first ever blockbusters, it is also known as India's "Gone with the Wind." Acting legend Nargis plays a woman who must raise her children single-handedly after her husband is maimed in an accident, and becomes the catalyst for her fellow villagers to fight for their land. It was nominated for the Best Foreign Language Film at the 1957 Academy Awards -- India's first ever Oscar nomination.

'The Host' ('Gwoemul') South Korea
(Bong Joon-ho, 2006)
Arguably one of the greatest monster films ever made; a staggering 20 percent of the population of South Korea have watched this film. It is based on the true story of a U.S. military employee ordered to dump formaldehyde into the sewer system that leads to Seoul's Han River. Six years later a giant mutant squid starts attacking people (this part is made up).

'Syndromes and a Century' ('Sang sattawat') Thailand
(Apichatpong Weerasethakul, 2006)
One of seven films commissioned by the New Crowned Hope Festival, part of Vienna's Mozart Year in 2006. Set in two hospitals, Weerasthakul reflects on the lives and memories of his medic parents using an experimental, anti-narrative style (a series of images, soft spoken dialogue and music) which was chosen by the hugely influential French film magazine "Les Cahiers du Cinéma" as one of the 10 best pictures of 2007.

'Whale Rider' New Zealand
(Niki Caro, 2002)
At just 12 years-old star, Keisha Castle-Hughes was nominated for Best Actress at the Academy Awards for her extraordinary performance as "Pai" a first-born female in the patriarchal Whangara tribe who believes she is destined to be the new Chief.
'Still Life' ('Sanxia haoren') China
(Zhang Ke Jia, 2006)
Awarded a Golden Lion at Venice in 2006, Zhangke's wide-sweeping film is based on the human tragedy of the Three Gorges Dam (more than one million people have been displaced) which stretches across the Yangtze River. The story focuses on a miner who travels back to his home town looking for his wife only to find that his former home is now submerged. The film illustrates the gulf between China's new world order and the soon-to-be-forgotten culture of the past.

'Shower' ('Xizao') China
(Yang Zhang, 1999)
The richly humorous and touching story of Shenzhen businessman, Da Ming who returns home to Beijing where his father runs the local bathhouse, only to caught between two cultures -- the decaying district of his childhood and the booming South where he now lives with a wife who has never met his family. When he realizes his father's health is failing he must take stock.

'Shall we dansu?' Japan
(Masayuki Suo, 1998)
Successful but unhappy accountant, Shohei Sugiyama spots a beautiful woman in a dance studio window. Despite his wife and child, he secretly signs up for dance lessons hoping to get closer to her. Slowly he begins to fall in love with the art form itself. A 2004 Hollywood remake starred Jennifer Lopez and Richard Gere.

'The Ballad of Narayama' ('Narayama bushiko') Japan
(Keisuke Kinoshita,1958)
In the a remote 19th century village, food is so scarce that when the elderly reach 70 years old they must climb frozen Mount Narayama to die so their families won't have to feed them. Kinoshita's film is profane and shocking at times -- throughout the film, images of couples having sex are interspersed with scenes of animals and insects mating. The film won the Palme d'Or at the Cannes Film Festival in 1984.

'Infernal Affairs' ('Mou gaan dou') Hong Kong/China
(Andrew Lau Wai-Keung, Alan Mak Siu-Fai, 2002)
Hong Kong cop thriller following the parallel lives of an undercover officer who infiltrates a Triad gang and policeman who secretly reports to a ruthless gang boss. "Infernal Affairs" breaks the mould of much of contemporary Hong Kong cinema by steering clear of over-the-top-action in favor of a slow-burning build up of psychological tension. Engrossing.

'Mandala' South Korea
(Kwon-Taek Im, 1981)
In the film that is considered to be his breakthrough as a cinematic artist, Im follows the lives and interactions of two Buddhist monks in Korea, and takes a contemplative look at the nature of individualism, religious belief and enlightenment.

'To Live' ('Huozhe') China
(Zhang Yimou, 1994)
Much lauded but banned in Mainland China because of its satirical portrayal of the Communist government, this epic, sumptuous film traces the personal fortunes of Fugui and Jiazhen as they fall from wealthy landownership to peasantry over 30 turbulent years.

'When the Tenth Month Comes' ('Bao gio cho den thang muoi') Vietnam
(Dang Nhat Minh, 1984)
A vivid portrayal, from the point of view of a young Vietnamese widow, of the legacy of the Vietnam war. It was released internationally under the name "The Love Doesn't Come Back."

'Himala' Philippines
(Ishmael Bernal, 1982)
Young Elsa thinks she has seen the Virgin Mary and goes on a healing crusade -- just the miracle the nowhere town she lives in is looking for. The film's austere camera work, haunting score and accomplished performances sensitively portray the harsh social and cultural conditions that people in the third world endure.
'A Touch of Zen' ('Xia nu') Hong Kong/Taiwan
(King Hu, 1969)
In this kung fu movie with a strong spiritual element a young artist finds himself caught up in the struggle to help a beautiful young woman escape the Imperial agents who murdered her family. A classic of the martial arts fantasy genre, which was the first Chinese film to win an award at Cannes Film Festival. It was also a massive influence on Ang Lee's "Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon."

'Ikiru' Japan
(Akira Kurosawa, 1952)
In this profoundly moralistic fable, longtime salaryman Kanji Watanabe, learns he has terminal cancer and, ultimately, through the experiences he has, the meaning of life. Takashi Shimura who played Watanabe was nominated in the Best Foreign Actor category at the 1960 BAFTA Awards.

'Utu' New Zealand
(Geoff Murphy, 1983)
Loosely based on the events of Te Kooti's War in the 1870s, it tells the tale of Maori tribesman Te Wheke who is serving in the British army. He is prompted to seek vengeance when he returns home to find his village and family destroyed in a senseless raid by the British.

'Gabbeh' Iran
(Mohsen Makhmalbaf, 1996)
An elderly nomad couple are cleaning their beautiful carpet or "gabbeh" when a young woman suddenly emerges to tell the history of her clan through the carpet. Beautifully filmed and the winner of numerous awards.

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Monday, September 15, 2008
'I wish it had been sooner,' says De Niro of 'Righteous Kill'

LONDON, England -- Movie godfathers Robert De Niro and Al Pacino have finally been reunited on the big screen -- but De Niro regrets how long it has taken.

"I wish it had been sooner," he told me on the red carpet at London's Leicester Square just before the film's UK premiere, "It's not so easy to get projects going. I wish, though, in spite of that that I had been more personally proactive ... and hopefully we'll do another project sooner than 13 years." Watch video of De Niro at the "Righteous Kill" premiere above.

The last film they were seen in together was Michael Mann's 1995 LA crime saga "Heat." Their shared screen time is a climactic six minute scene in a diner, which, at the time was likened to "Ben Hur sitting down and acting with Spartacus," by the New York Times. This time, they are acting together in almost every scene.

After all this time, though, according to De Niro who was first on board for the project (which is why he gets top billing), the genesis of their reunion was pretty spontaneous. He simply suggested Pacino to director, John Avnet: "I said, 'What about Al?' and that's how it started."

Pacino for his part says: "I thought, 'This is an opportunity to work with Bob again, and I'll take it.'"

With two such big names in one film, you might expect a bit of rivalry. Pacino says maybe in the old days but not now: "Early on in our careers I think there had to be a little bit when we were younger but I think we've gone past that.

"My rivalry is with Dustin Hoffman -- and Brad Pitt!"

For more from the "Righteous Kill" red carpet and clips from the film watch or subscribe to the Screening Room podcast.

-- From CNN's Mairi Mackay

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Wednesday, September 10, 2008
A clip from German phenomenon 'The Wave'

It's school project week and German high school teacher Rainer Wenger is as frustrated as his pupils at being lumbered with fascism as a topic -- again. He decides to shake things up a bit, but his unorthodox -- and hastily-devised -- project to show his pupils how powerful the feeling of unity can be takes on a life of its own.

I watched Dennis Gansel's film recently and really enjoyed it. Great story, great soundtrack, and a shocker at the end. Apparently it was a bit of a phenomenon in Germany where it was made but, interestingly, the novel the film has been adapted from was based on true-events at a high school in Palo Alto, California.

-- From CNN's Mairi Mackay

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'Frost/Nixon' to open London Film Festival
LONDON, England -- "All the best things happen in the dark, and that's all that matters," London Film Festival Artistic Director Sandra Hebron quipped to an audience of more than 300 reporters in a nice twist on some of the Hadron Collider stories that have been dominating the headlines recently.

She was talking at London Film Festival's own bid to grab some headlines with its announcement of the line-up for this year's event.

The opening reel unwinds on October 15th with the world premiere of "Frost/Nixon," director Ron Howard's adaptation of Peter Morgan's stage play about the historic encounter between British TV showman David Frost and the disgraced ex-U.S. President three years after Watergate. Watch a clip from the film below.

Another American President comes under the spotlight at LFF in the shape of George W. Bush. Oliver Stone has aldready tackled Nixon and JFK on-screen and now turns his attention to Bush in "W." It is already causing controversy in the U.S. as it is a rare feature about an incumbent President.

A recent feature of the London Film Festival is to make use of the city's landmark venues. Hence the world premiere of the latest Bond movie "Quantum of Solace," which will be shown free in an open-air screening in Trafalgar Square moments after it's world premiere in nearby Leicester Square. It's hoped the stars might wander the short distance from one venue to the other to delight their fans.

Former Bond girl Eva Green is among the stars expected to shine in London this year. Hollywood-hunters can look forward to the likes of Peter O'Toole, Penelope Cruz, Gwyneth Paltrow, Liam Neeson, Laura Linney Jessica Alba, Benicio del Toro and Rachel Weisz as well as directorial delights from Steven Soderbergh, Michael Winterbottom and Danny Boyle

Boyle is currently the focus of critical acclaim at Toronto Film Festival with his latest film "Slumdog Millionaire." It is the rags-to-riches story of a boy from Mumbai who becomes a star on the game show "Who Wants to be a Millionaire," and it will close LFF on October 30th.

-- From CNN's Neil Curry

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Spike Lee and Barack Obama's dating success

TORONTO, Canada -- The hectic junket schedule continues at Toronto. I have a few hours set aside for "Miracle at St. Anna" -- the new Spike Lee (right) movie about the contribution of African-American troops in World War II.

This is the movie, remember, that caused Spike Lee to criticize Clint Eastwood about the lack of African-American troops in his two World War II movies from 2006, "Flags of Our Fathers" and "Letters from Iwo Jima," which in turn caused Clint Eastwood to say Spike Lee should "Shut his face." All rather awkward; and Spike quite clearly does not want to go into it again with me.

Regardless, we have a good time during my whopping 20 minute time slot with him. He talks about shooting the film in Italy; filming a war epic -- and what moved him about the story.

I also ask him about a rumor I'd heard that when Barack Obama told Spike his first date with Michelle was to see "Do the Right Thing" -- Lee's 1989 story of a scorchingly hot day in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn where hatred and resentment spills into violence -- Spike apparently said: "Well, thank God I made it or you'd have had to take her to "Soul Man" or "Driving Miss Daisy" and she'd never have wanted to see you again."

Spike laughs it off and says Obama did take Michelle to "Do the Right Thing" and to Baskin Robbins after -- but he refuses to go into any more detail. Hmmm...

-- From CNN's Katie Walmsley

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Tuesday, September 9, 2008
Dinner with Mike Leigh at the Sarajevo Film Festival

SARAJEVO, Bosnia-Herzegovina -- One evening at the Sarajevo Film Festival I was lucky enough to be invited to meet great British filmmaker Mike Leigh.

We're at a dinner, which takes place in quite surreal surroundings at a golf club which overlooks a large graveyard. Inevitably, the subject of war comes back to the table time and time again.

Leigh spends most of the time talking about "Happy-Go-Lucky" leading lady, Sally Hawkins, who gives a great performance -- and the special role women play in his films. He says he finds it important, "to make good parts for women, mostly because there aren't very many."

"Happy-Go-Lucky" is set in north London but he says he hopes "it transcends to other places." It certainly seems to have from the standing ovation the audience gave it after the screening in Sarajevo.

Leigh is also in Bosnia because of the foundation set up in memory of Katrin Cartlidge -- the British actress known for great roles in films like Lars Von Trier's "Breaking the Waves," Leigh's "Topsy-Turvy," "Naked" and others -- which awards bursaries to filmmakers. The Sarajevo connection comes from Cartlidge's role in Sarajevan Danis Tanovic's award-winning "No Man’s Land."

"This is my fifth visit to Sarajevo," Leigh told the assembled crowd and it would seem, the lack of pretentious arrangements is one of the secrets that brings global film stars back to Sarajevo time and time again. While showing courtesy and friendship, Miro, the festival founder leaves special guests to do whatever they want, while film goers are polite and don't intrude on the stars.

-- From CNN's Neven Andjelic

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Sunday, September 7, 2008
Rian Johnson's 'The Brothers Bloom' at Toronto
TORONTO, Canada -- We wait around two-and-a-half hours for the "Brother's Bloom" junket , finally give up and head to Guy Ritchie's "RocknRolla." Then we traipse back down to "Brothers Bloom," where they seem to have sorted themselves out a bit.

"Brothers Bloom" is a terrific new film by Rian Johnson -- a sort of semi-fantastical and very funny story of two conmen and their worldwide journey of elaborate lies.

Mark Ruffalo and Adrien Brody play the two brothers, while Rachel Weisz plays their victim, an eccentric woman who has barely ever left her mansion.

Interviewing Brody, I found myself wanting to ask things like: "How are you such a good actor? How do you do it? How does your mind work?" But I had to content myself for practicality's sake with just asking him what it is about acting that he loves.

Brody says he loves to try on different hats and that doing comedy is great for him because as quite a serious person it's something different. I compliment him extravagantly on the film (which I genuinely think is brilliant) and he seems happy.

Weisz and I both bond over being north London girls who went to sister schools and now live in almost the same area of Manhattan. She is absolutely stunning in person and also extremely warm and friendly. She tells me about the process she went through with the director for pulling some of the weirder clothes out of her wardrobe to try and create a "look" for her character, Penelope, including giant lace-up Victorian clown shoes. Why did she have those in the first place?

-- From CNN's Katie Walmsley in Toronto

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Darren Aronofsky's 'The Wrestler' wins Golden Lion
LONDON, England -- After mixed reviews for 2006's "The Fountain," which had its world premiere at Venice (several critics booed the film at the press screening but it received a 10-minute standing ovation at the public screening the next night), Darren Aronofsky has finally scored the Lido's top prize with his latest film "The Wrestler," starring Mickey Rourke (pictured), Marisa Tomei and Evan Rachel Wood.

This win and the film's storyline, which is more conventional than earlier films like "Pi" and "Requiem for a Dream," should propel Aronofsky into a more commercial global market -- and, of course, put the film into Oscars contention.

The Silver Lion for Best Direction went to Russia's Aleksei German Jr for "Paper Soldier," the story of a doctor working with the first Soviet cosmonauts; Best Actor went to Silvio Orlando for his portrayal of the father of a young girl who commits murder in Pupi Avati's "Il Papa di Giovanna"; and Best Actress went to Dominique Blanc as a woman who can't cope with her independence in "L'Autre."

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Friday, September 5, 2008
Ed Harris' 'Appaloosa' at Toronto
TORONTO, Canada -- Press kicked off early on Thursday morning with the "Appaloosa" junket. It's a Western based on Robert B. Parker's novel, which stars and is directed by Ed Harris. Harris has cast Viggo Mortensen as his fellow hired gun, Jeremy Irons as a local thug and Renee Zellwegger as a mysterious widow.

The movie is the kind of subtly written and acted work you would expect of Harris -- and it is a great showcase for both his talents and Mortensen's.

Mortensen in person is modest bordering on shy -- and quite earnest, but in a way that mostly suggests he has very personal feelings about the film.

Ed Harris is, aside from being extremely attractive, quietly excited about the film, which has clearly been a passion project for him. Jeremy Irons talks about watching Paul Thomas Anderson's "There Will Be Blood" during filming and realizing his accent in "Appaloosa" and Daniel Day Lewis' in "There Will Be Blood" are basically the same.

They all clearly enjoyed the experience of filming a western in the desert near Santa Fe, New Mexico. It sounds like a grown-up version of playing cowboys and indians but with really expensive props.

-- From CNN's Katie Walmsley in Toronto

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'Machan' wins Europa Cinemas prize at Venice
LONDON, England -- We at The Screening Room were pretty pleased to hear that Italian Uberto Pasolini's directorial debut "Machan" has won the Europa Cinemas Label as Best European film at Venice.

It's a really touching story of a group of slum dwellers in Colombo, Sri Lanka who are desperate for an escape route to the West which they perceive to be a land of riches. One day they stumble upon a flyer advertising a handball tournament in Bavaria, which seems like a present from the gods. Cue the creation of the entirely fictitious Sri Lanka National Handball Team.

Pasolini started his career as a runner on the Cambodia genocide movie "The Killing Fields" and was Oscar-nominated as a producer for Brit comedy "The Full Monty." He said that he was inspired to make the film by a news story about a group of 23 Sri Lankan men who, posing as the National Handball Team of Sri Lanka, disappeared during a handball tournament in Germany.

"The impulse to make 'Machan' stems from the discovery of an absurd true event that inspired me to confront the immigration policies of the West in a non-didactic, humorous way," he said.

Hopefully the film will benefit from the commitment from the Europa Cinemas program, which says it will do its best to extend the film's run via promotion in 48 European countries.

-- From CNN's Mairi Mackay

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Thursday, September 4, 2008
Toronto Film Festival starts today
LONDON, England -- Many hacks, paps, critics, and movie industry types have upped sticks from the Lido and climbed aboard planes to Toronto, Canada where this one of this year's big film festivals has just kicked off.

Notable premieres include: Spike Lee's "Miracle at St. Anna," about a group of African-American U.S. soldiers in Italy in World War II; "The Lucky Ones," about returning Iraq War veterans on a road trip home starring Tim Robbins; and "The Secret Life of Bees," which stars Dakota Fanning and Queen Latifah in an adaptation of the Sue Monk Kidd best seller.


The Venice critic: Lee Marshall

VENICE, Italy -- I caught up with critic of 14 years and Venice veteran Lee Marshall to find out what he's excited about and why.

What's special about Venice?

It doesn't have the business side of things like Berlin and Cannes and it doesn't have the razzmatazz of Cannes -- it is just about watching films. Its location on the Lido and time of year in August make it gorgeous. If Cannes is all about in-your-face glamour then Venice is its laid back equivalent. Berlin in February has the weather going against it and in such a big city, sometimes the festival can get lost.
What are your thoughts on the line-up at Venice this year?

I've always liked Venice the best, but for me this year is quite weak. The selection is disappointing on paper but I'm still hoping for some pleasant surprises.

Possible Golden Lion winners?

Guillermo Arriaga's "The Burning Plain" will be among prize winners and Charlize Theron could be looking at a best actress award.

Worst film?

Barbet Schroeder's "Inju, the Beast in the Shadow." An embarassingly bad film that should never have been in competition.

What films are you really excited about?

Miyazaki's "Ponyo on the Cliff by the Sea." It is pitched to a much younger audience than say, "Spirited Away," but for me it was 90 minutes of pure pleasure. Jonathan Demme's "Rachel Getting Married" -- Demme is a very varied director who works in several different genres and I admire that about him.

Marco Bechis' "BirdWatchers" -- I liked his last film and he is the least parochial of the Italian directors who are in festival.

Thoughts on the so-called Italian film renaissance?

Whenever there are one or two good Italian films people always start talking about a "renaissance." The Italian film industry puts out on average three or four decent films each year. Mueller was probably kicking himself for not getting Matteo Garrone's "Gomorrah" and Paolo Sorrentino's "Il Divo" (both of which won prizes at Cannes earlier this year.)

Why do you love film festivals?

It's not for the big films like the Coen brothers' "Burn After Reading" but for the chance to see the small films that may never get distribution in your territory.

It really highlights how inflexible the system is. The film buff in Britain will have a different take than France or Italy, simply because there are films that they will never have seen.

-- From CNN's Mairi Mackay
Tuesday, September 2, 2008
More on press conferences: 'BirdWatchers'

VENICE, Italy -- Now, choking up at a press conference is nothing new (look at Hillary Clinton) but there was something pretty touching about "BirdWatchers" actress Eliane Juca Da Silva's (right) tears.

"It makes me cry to know that so many children are dying, that so many of us are dying ... We are all human beings, we are not just Indians, we have thoughts and ideas and culture and our language, we just want a possibility to continue to live," the emotional Amazon Indian actress told a packed room.

She was talking about the plight of the Guarani-Kaiowa Indians in the lush lands of Mato Grosso do Sul, in Brazil where director and co-writer Marco Bechis has set "BirdWatchers." Bechis has spent years working with the Amazonian people to prepare for the film and some of the actors in the film are Indians.
The film is set against the backdrop of the Indians' growing malcontent. They are forced to live in reservations while fazenderos own plantations growing crops on what was once their land. The Indians feel they have no future and young people are particularly badly affected, which has led to an epidemic of suicides.
From the start of the festival, there has been a buzz on the Lido that "BirdWatchers" could be a Golden Lion contender and, since screenings started a few days ago, it has been getting positive reviews.
Bechis has already had a prize though -- the chance to bring the Gurani Indian actors to Venice for the festival. "They've never been to Europe, been on the beach or eaten ice-cream before," he told CNN in an interview.

-- From CNN's Mairi Mackay

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The joys of Italian press conferences
VENICE, Italy -- I've heard (possibly apocryphal) tales of Italian journalists standing up at press conferences and asking the director of a drama, "Did you mean this film to be a comedy?"

But normally, the gathered great and good of the movie press seem to signal their distaste for a director's work by non-attendance or slumping wordlessly in their chairs as the panel gamely interview themselves about their work.

I did witness some verbal jousting at a press conference for "Süt (Milk)" by Turkish director Semih Kaplanoğlu, which is showing in competition. One of the panel was proudly saying what a great moment being at Venice is for Turkish film as the last time a Turkish film played in competition was 1991.

At this point, a determined journalist started to disagree with him saying, no, no, no you are wrong. There has, in fact, been a Turkish film in competition since then.

"I'm sorry but I think you'll find I am right," the panel member battles on. This goes back and forth for some time until eventually the panel member gets really angry. "Look, I think I know that I am right." The journalist is about to retort when the microphone is taken out of his hand.

Earlier in the week at the press conference for Guillermo Arriaga's film "The Burning Plain," one journalist introduced himself to the film's star Charlize Theron saying: "I have a question for Charlize Theron. Which side of the bed do you like to sleep on?"

Unhesitatingly Charlize shoots back, "The other side of the bed from you!" then, I think, realizes that this means she would in fact share a bed with him and starts shouting "SECURITY! SECURITY!"

She recovers herself and says: "Look, I think you're cute but I have a boyfriend and he will kill you."

-- From CNN's Mairi Mackay

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The Screening Room brings you the inside track on all aspects of the movie business around the globe. Find out what presenter Myleene Klass has been up to, and send us your comments and suggestions for our Top 10 movie list of the month.
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