“Miral” Underwhelms, “Somewhere” Divided

“Black Swan” continues to be the talk of the Lido, with Darren Aronofsky standing a very good chance of collecting his second Golden Lion award for best film in three years (“The Wrestler” was something of a surprise winner in 2008, launching the campaign that snagged that film three Oscar nominations). I’m still wary of the film’s chances to score in the Best Picture and Director categories – psych-sexual thrillers are still generally a no-no with the Academy, as far as we can tell. But as an actor’s showcase, it could definitely play well; Natalie Portman has been waiting for a knock-your-socks-off role like this for years, and Barbara Hershey is a well-loved industry veteran. The most adventurous branch of the Academy, the writers, could also very well like to reward original weirdness of this sort.

Meanwhile, Julian Schnabel’s “Miral” landed to a chorus of “mehs.” The generation-spanning tale of a young Palestinian girl-turned-activist-turned-journalist is being attached to words that you never would have heard about Schnabel’s previous films like “The Diving Bell and the Butterfly” or “Basquiat:” key words like ‘educational,’ ‘political,’ ‘obvious,’ ‘heavy-handed.’ It seems that a director who has done more than any other filmmaker in years to shatter the formula of the prestige biopic seems to have given in to common tropes to get his message across on this hot-button topic.

The reviews for Sofia Coppola’s “Somewhere” are all over the map. Clearly, the director has returned to the territory that she navigated so well in “Lost in Translation;” how successfully she turns “Somewhere” into its own beast depends on who you’re reading. However, Guy Lodge, who I tend to share film taste with, gave the film 3 1/2 stars and high praise for Coppola; I particularly like his response to the charges that the director is just repeating herself:

With the wry, shimmery and thoroughly beguiling“Somewhere,” Coppola has perhaps made exactly the film she needed to at this point in her career: one that calmly takes stock of her abilities and interests rather than pushing them too severely.

The director will, inevitably, take some flak for making a third consecutive film about the alienating side effects of celebrity and privilege – but as with Woody Allen and Upper East Side intelligentsia, or Mike Leigh and Britain’s Tetley-swilling middle classes, this is the world she knows and feels, and if she feels a responsibility to keep circling back to it in her work, then she should do so.

Isn’t it true that most of the great directors have returned to the same kind of material over and over again? Do we criticize Christopher Nolan for using the same tortured male protagonist in all of his movies (OK, maybe some people do, but there is definitely nowhere near the same level of vitriol as that which is aimed at Coppola)? Do we criticize Akira Kurosawa for always making films about wandering samurai? Or Ford for making films about loner cowboys? So Coppola has made another movie about an alienated celebrity figure. Maybe she just has a lot to say on the subject.

Anyway, “Never Let Me Go” and “The Way Back” both get their world premieres tonight in Telluride, Colorado. Rumors that Brad Pitt is in town fuel insistence that “The Tree of Life” will have a surprise screening are probably false, but we’ll see. In the meantime, enjoy the first samples of Rachel Portman’s score for “Never Let Me Go,” available over at iTunes. Just from these bits, it looks to be a real player in the Original Score category.

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