A Prophet (2009) - New York Time Critics' Pick  

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Near the end of “A Prophet,” one of those rare films in which the moral stakes are as insistent and thought through as the aesthetic choices, there’s a scene in which the lead character, Malik, travels to Paris to kill some men. The scene reverberates with almost unbearable tension but is briefly punctured by a seemingly throwaway image: Seconds before he begins shooting, thereby sealing his fate, you see him catch sight of a pair of men’s shoes showcased like jewels in a boutique window in a rich Parisian quarter. He does a double take, a reaction that might mirror that of the anxious viewer who wonders why he doesn’t just get on with it.
Much of what distinguishes “A Prophet” (“Un Prophète”) is revealed in Malik’s brief appreciation of the shoes, as well as the surprise it elicits. He’s window shopping — doesn’t he have some killing to do? Yet these luxury items are resonant, as is their exclusive setting and the way Malik’s admiring gaze momentarily stops the flow of the action: each adds another element to this portrait of an impoverished young Frenchman of Arab descent who is transformed in prison. Over the course of the film Malik will learn to read, to smuggle, to murder, to survive. Which is why when he pauses after unloading his guns, his pale face floating in the sanguineous dark, it looks as if he were emerging from a kind of womb: his metamorphosis is complete.

Sppedy Gonzalez Debut Movie  

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When you have been accused for decades of being a cheap caricature and resorting to ethnic humor for easy laughs, does an endorsement from George Lopez help or hurt your cause?

Speedy Gonzales, the hyperactive Warner Brothers rodent who calls himself “the fastest mouse in all Mexico,” is on the fast track for his own feature film. And not only will Mr. Lopez, the comedian and TBS talk-show host, provide the character’s voice, he also gives Speedy his “Latino seal of approval,” according to his wife and producer, Anne Lopez.

In an interview with the Heat Vision blog of The Hollywood Reporter, Ms. Lopez said that this “Speedy Gonzales” film, which will be made by New Line Cinema, will avoid outdated depictions of the cartoon character, who made his debut in the 1953 short “Cat-Tails for Two.”

“We wanted to make sure that it was not the Speedy of the 1950s, the racist Speedy,” Ms Lopez told The Hollywood Reporter. In the new movie, she said, Speedy “comes from a family that works in a very meticulous setting, and he’s a little too fast for what they do.”

The “Speedy Gonzales” film, which does not yet have a release date, will be written Alec Sokolow and Joel Cohen, who wrote films for Garfield, the controversially anti-Monday cat.

Cat-and-Mouse for a Trashy Trailer  

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LOS ANGELES — they’re not the kind of things people say in polite society, or even impolite society. Saying them, even in jest, can get a drink tossed in your face and the glass with it.
Yet there they are, roaring out of the mouth of a cute little 11-year-old girl.

A trailer for the forthcoming film “Kick-Ass” that depicts the girl wielding a gun and using highly, highly profane language is igniting debate about how Hollywood advertises its R-rated films on the Web.

Movie marketers in recent years have increasingly relied on raunchy ads known as “red-band” trailers to stir interest in their films. While most trailers are approved for broad audiences by the Motion Picture Association of America, the red-labeled variety usually include nudity, profanity and other material deemed inappropriate for children. Many theaters refuse to run these trailers, but they are widely distributed online — and that is at the root of the current dust-up.

One R-rated trailer for the movie, about a teenage boy who tries to become a superhero, was released by Lionsgate in late December and has become a Web phenomenon. The trailer primarily focuses on Hit Girl, an 11-year-old sword- and gun-wielding vigilante played by Chloë Moretz (who just turned 13 in real life). Nicolas Cage plays her father, an equally menacing oddball named Big Daddy.

In the trailer Hit Girl salts her conversation with language so graphic that it would make a biker blanch; it’s well beyond the kind of garden- variety profanity that has seeped into mainstream culture. She then shoots a man in the face and uses a whip to kill another. 

Lionsgate, which acquired the North American distribution rights to this independently produced film, released another red-band trailer on Friday. This one adds references to masturbation in the boy’s voice and has another cascade of under-age cursing.

In both instances Lionsgate complied with industry rules for red-band trailers. The Motion Picture Association of America, the trade organization that bestows ratings and regulates movie advertising, restricts release of these ads to sites that require viewers to pass an age-verification test, in which viewers 17 and older have to match their names, birthdays and ZIP codes against public records on file.

The problem is that the raunchy trailers pop up on sites without age restrictions almost instantaneously. Fans copy them to their own blogs and Facebook profiles and post them outside of YouTube’s so-called age gates. All movie trailers go viral, but the red-band ones speed across the Internet with an added velocity because of their “can you believe what they just said” nature.

“Studios hide behind the notion of an age requirement for these trailers, but it’s pure fiction,” said Nell Minow, a lawyer who reviews films for radio stations and Beliefnet.com under the name Movie Mom. “It’s easy for kids to access, and that’s exactly how the industry wants it.”

Moreover, the severity of age policing varies, with some sites — including the Trailer Park section of MySpace, which had the red-band version as of Tuesday — seemingly leaving it to the honor system and asking for only an easily lied-about birth date. (A MySpace spokeswoman, Tracy Akelrud, said the site used other controls to detect under-age users. “If you are under 17, you will be blocked,” she said.) 

The global nature of the Internet poses another challenge: foreign Web sites, which do not fall under control of the motion picture association, are easily reached through Google.

Red-band trailers had such a bad reputation in some studio circles that as recently as 2007, Warner Brothers wouldn’t even do them, saying it cost too much to make trailers for such a niche audience. But at the moment, one of the hottest trailers on the Web is a red-band variety for Warner’s “Cop-Out,” featuring a cursing 10-year-old. The Hollywood Reporter wrote about its “all new potty-mouthed flavor!”

Ms. Minow, who is also a shareholder activist and the daughter of Newton N. Minow, a former chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, has been stewing about red-band trailers for years, but the particularly graphic ones for “Kick-Ass” have brought her to a boil. She said she had lodged multiple complaints with the motion picture association in recent weeks. Other family advocacy groups — including one as far-flung as Australia — are rallying around her.

“These particular trailers are even worse than normal because they depict a child and so are more interesting to children,” Ms. Minow said. She is also upset that the movie showcases a child engaging in such behavior in the first place, adding, “Isn’t there a limit to what we can ask children to do on screen?” (Similar questions were raised in 1976 when a 13-year-old Jodie Foster played a teenage prostitute in “Taxi Driver.”)

The film at the center of the new controversy, directed by Matthew Vaughn, with a budget of around $35 million and set for release in the United States on April 16, is based on the popular — and equally violent — comic book series of the same title by Mark Millar. Mr. Vaughn’s company, Marv Films, and Plan B Entertainment, a company owned by Brad Pitt, financed the movie. Advance interest in the film is enormous, according to pre-release tracking surveys, and Hollywood widely expects it to be a hit.

The motion picture organization acknowledges the problem of “bleed” — the term the industry uses for marketing materials that spread beyond their specific target audience — but bristles at the notion that it could do more to protect children from inappropriate movie advertising. 

“We devote enormous resources to making certain that kids don’t encounter these trailers,” said Marilyn Gordon, the organization’s senior vice president for advertising. “That said, we can’t scrub the entire Internet.”

She said the association proactively searched for sites that provide unrestricted access to red-band trailers and, working with studios, demanded their removal. Since the Hit Girl trailer was released in December, Ms. Gordon said the organization had found 86 sites providing unrestricted access. As of Monday, all but a few had removed the video. One of the remaining was out of the organization’s jurisdiction: a fan site in Eastern Europe.

Lionsgate, which gained notoriety as the studio behind the violent “Saw” franchise, in many ways prides itself on button-pushing marketing. But with this film, studio executives say they are simply using red-band trailers to educate moviegoers about exactly what awaits. Because of Motion Picture Association of America restrictions, the “green band” trailer approved for broad audiences features little swearing or sex references and depicts comparatively little violence.

In a statement the studio said, “It’s really important for people to know what kind of movie this is so they can make an appropriate decision about whether or not they want to see it.”

Sony's hyperviolent mythological action adventure arrives for the PS3 a day after Caesar's demise; God of War Collection now $30.  

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Kratos made his debut on the PlayStation 3 with the God of War Collection in November, but the compilation pack is just a substitute for what fans of the franchise have really been waiting for. With God of War III carrying a March release window since the 2009 Electronic Entertainment Expo, Sony Computer Entertainment announced today that the franchise's first all-new installment for the PlayStation 3 would arrive on March 16.

God of War III marks the conclusion of Kratos' current story arc to bring about the fall of Olympus. As in previous installments, the visceral gameplay sees Kratos dismembering, decapitating, eviscerating, mutilating, and otherwise doing grievous bodily harm to a variety of mythological beasts. For this installment, gameplay will emphasis fighting on monolithic Titans and mounting enemies, as well as gaining new weapons and additional attacks.

The game will be available in both a $59.99 standard edition and a $99.99 God of War III Ultimate Edition. In addition to the game and decorative Pandora's box packaging, players of the Ultimate Edition will receive an art book as well as access to downloadable content and in-game bonuses. Gamers will also get a feature-length retrospective on the franchise, the trilogy soundtrack, and a selection of heavy metal tracks inspired by God of War.

Lastly, Sony also announced through the PlayStation Blog today that it would be cutting the price of the God of War Collection to $29.99. The collection includes the first two highly acclaimed God of War titles for the PlayStation 2, with remastered 720p high-definition graphics and added trophy support. The package also includes a playable demo for God of War III.

Shutter Island - a Box Office Hit  

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This R-rated thriller, directed by Martin Scorsese and starring Leonardo DiCaprio, sold an estimated $40.2 million in tickets, according to Hollywood.com, which compiles box office statistics. In limited release overseas “Shutter Island,” which cost $75 million to make (after deducting tax rebates from Massachusetts, where the film was shot), sold an additional $9.1 million, according to Paramount.
The robust result for “Shutter Island” validates Paramount’s decision in August to abandon the film’s initial release date of Oct. 2, though a marketing campaign was already well under way. The delay irritated fans and knocked the film out of contention for the 2009 Academy Awards.

“We have rarely felt more pressure about an opening,” said Rob Moore, Paramount’s vice chairman. “Everyone was standing over us to see if the decision was a good one. Luckily, the result was phenomenal.”

Hollywood was as surprised by the delay — especially since it seemed to push around a power player like Mr. Scorsese — as it was by Paramount’s frank explanation. The studio said it simply could not afford to release the movie in the fourth quarter because of an industry-wide slump in DVD sales, among other financial concerns.

Neither Mr. Scorsese nor Mr. DiCaprio has had an opening this big, even when adjusted for inflation. The previous high-water mark for Mr. Scorsese was “The Departed,” which sold about $27 million over its first three days in 2006. Mr. DiCaprio’s previous record was the 2002 comedic drama “Catch Me if You Can,” which had a $30 million opening.

Exit polls for “Shutter Island” showed the audience was equal parts male and female and of a wide age range, a rarity for an R-rated picture and a good omen for sales in the weeks ahead. The movie, which received mixed reviews, is based on a Dennis Lehane novel and focuses on a mystery at a hospital for the criminally insane.

The ensemble comedy “Valentine’s Day” (Warner Brothers) was second for the weekend with about $17.2 million for a new total of $87.4 million. “Avatar” (20th Century Fox) continued to chug away in third place, selling about $16.1 million in tickets for a new total of $687.8 million.

“Percy Jackson & the Olympians: The Lightning Thief” (Fox) was fourth with about $15.3 million ($58.8 million total). The expensive thriller “The Wolfman” (Universal Pictures) fell sharply in its second week to fifth place with about $9.8 million ($50 million total.)

Shutter Island  

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“Shutter Island” takes place off the coast of Massachusetts in 1954. I’m sorry, that should be OFF THE COAST OF MASSACHUSETTS! IN 1954! since every detail and incident in the movie, however minor, is subjected to frantic, almost demented (and not always unenjoyable) amplification. The wail of strangled cellos accompanies shots of the titular island, a sinister, rain-lashed outcropping that is home to a mental hospital for the CRIMINALLY INSANE! The color scheme is lurid, and the camera movements telegraph anxiety. Nothing is as it seems. Something TERRIBLE is afoot.
Sadly, that something turns out to be the movie itself, directed by Martin Scorsese and adapted by Laeta Kalogridis from a peculiar contraption of a thriller by Dennis Lehane. Like Shutter Island in the opening scenes, the full dimensions of the catastrophe come into view only gradually. At first everything is fine, or at least not quite right in a way that seems agreeably intriguing. Mr. Scorsese uses his considerable formal dexterity — his intimate, comprehensive understanding of how sound and image work together to create meanings and moods — to conjure a tingly atmosphere of uncertainty and dread.

The vessel of these anxieties is Leonardo DiCaprio, who plays Teddy Daniels, a United States marshal taking a ferry ride out to the island to investigate the disappearance of a patient. Mr. DiCaprio, having grown perhaps overly fond of his accent from “The Departed,” brings it along for the ride, and it spreads through the movie like a contagious disease. Teddy’s partner (pahtnah), Chuck Aule, played by Mark (Mahk) Ruffalo, is supposed to be from the Pacific Northwest but he seems to have left all his R’s back in Seattle. Michelle Williams pops up in smudgy, color-drenched memories and hallucinations as Teddy’s dead wife, Dolores, her intonations as thick and clammy as chowder.

Those dialect-coached Boston inflections predominate in “Shutter Island,” but are not the only voices heard on the grounds of the asylum, where the patients perambulate like zombies and the orderlies lurk like vengeful specters. Ben Kingsley is Dr. Cawley, the psychiatrist in charge, with silky upper-crust menace in his voice and a diabolical little beard on his chin. Max von Sydow spouts Freudianisms in insinuating Germanic tones that remind Teddy — and of course not only Teddy — of Nazis, an association that helps to induce gratuitous flashbacks of corpses stacked outside death-camp barracks.

Those images emanate from Teddy’s troubled mind, the status of which is one of the movie’s chief mysteries. There are many others besides. Intimations of conspiracy, supernaturalism, cold war shenanigans and a whole lot more float around in the atmosphere, which is convulsed by operatically bad weather and the energetic furrowing of Mr. DiCaprio’s brow. As he interviews patients and staff members, trying to figure out how a woman named Rachel Solando could have vanished, barefoot, from her cell, Teddy is plagued by headaches, bad dreams and paranoia. Everyone he talks to seems to be harboring a secret, but what can it be?

Is there some kind of espionage-related psychological experimentation going on? Is it connected in some way to grisly medical research undertaken during the Third Reich? Are Dr. Cawley’s methods, which he claims are a humane advance over the cruelty and superstition of the past, really a form of madness in their own right? And what about the strange coincidence that Shutter Island apparently houses the firebug who caused Dolores’s death?

All of these riddles send out tendrils of implication that end up strangling the movie, the plot of which does not so much thicken as clog and coagulate. Mr. Scorsese, ever resourceful, draws on the influence of Alfred Hitchcock, the master of carefully orchestrated psychological confusion, and also nods in the direction of Mario Bava, the Italian horror maestro whose gothic fantasias routinely assert the triumph of sensation over sense. Mr. Scorsese’s camera sense effectively fills every scene with creepiness, but sustained, gripping suspense seems beyond his grasp.

And the movie’s central dramatic problem — the unstable boundary between the reality of Shutter Island and Teddy’s perception of it — becomes less interesting as the story lurches along. You begin to suspect almost immediately that a lot of narrative misdirection is at work here, as MacGuffins and red herrings spawn and swarm. But just when the puzzle should accelerate, the picture slows down, pushing poor Teddy into a series of encounters with excellent actors (Emily Mortimer, Jackie Earle Haley, Patricia Clarkson) who provide painstaking exposition of matters that the audience already suspects are completely irrelevant.
Mr. Scorsese in effect forces you to study the threads on the rug he is preparing, with lugubrious deliberateness, to pull out from under you. As the final revelations approach, the stakes diminish precipitously, and the sense that the whole movie has been a strained and pointless contrivance starts to take hold. 

There are, of course, those who will resist this conclusion, in part out of loyalty to Mr. Scorsese, a director to whom otherwise hard-headed critics are inclined to extend the benefit of the doubt. But in this case the equivocation, the uncertainty, seems to come from the filmmaker himself, who seems to have been unable to locate what it is in this movie he cares about, beyond any particular, local formal concern. He has, in the past, used characters whose grasp of reality was shaky — or who stubbornly lived in realities of their own making — as vehicles for psychological exploration and even social criticism. But both Teddy’s mind and the world of Shutter Island are closed, airless systems, illuminated with flashes of virtuosity but with no particular heat, conviction or purpose.

“Shutter Island” is rated R (Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian). Blood, swearing, cigarettes.
Opens on Friday nationwide.
Directed by Martin Scorsese; written by Laeta Kalogridis, based on the novel by Dennis Lehane; director of photography, Robert Richardson; edited by Thelma Schoonmaker; production designer, Dante Ferretti; produced by Mr. Scorsese, Mike Medavoy, Arnold W. Messer and Bradley J. Fischer; released by Paramount Pictures. Running time: 2 hours 18 minutes.

Berlin Takes Film Fest, and Fringe, in Stride  

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The prominent red-carpet faces at this year’s Berlinale, as the festival is known, have included Renée Zellweger, a member of the jury (headed by the director Werner Herzog) that will give out prizes on Saturday; Leonardo DiCaprio, who was promoting his latest collaboration with Martin Scorsese, “Shutter Island”; and the Bollywood megastar Shah Rukh Khan, here for the premiere of “My Name Is Khan.”

But this year’s Berlinale, which ends on Sunday, has been as much about absent celebrities as present ones. Roman Polanski remained under house arrest in Switzerland as his latest movie, “The Ghost Writer,” had its premiere on Friday (to mixed reviews). The biggest story in the daily trade publications was about Lars von Trier, who does not have a film here but was briefly — and falsely — rumored to be collaborating with Mr. Scorsese and Robert De Niro on a “Taxi Driver” remake.

True to form, the loudest absence was orchestrated by the British street artist Banksy, who continued to develop the meta-narrative surrounding his directorial debut, “Exit Through the Gift Shop,” that started at the recent Sundance festival. In Park City, Utah, last month anticipation for the documentary — a survey of the street-art scene that shifts its focus to the man supposedly making a movie about Banksy — was spiked with the appearance of Banksy-like graffiti around town. In Berlin the artist, whose identity remains a closely guarded secret (and a carefully cultivated mystery), raised eyebrows by scheduling a news conference.

Mysteries and Hopes Converge on a Shrine  

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Moving between heaven and hell, or perhaps just sky and earth, the pilgrims who walk and tremble and are sometimes pushed through “Lourdes” in wheelchairs are usually seen at a remove. One exception is Christine, a young woman with multiple sclerosis who is played by the French actress Sylvie Testud. Tucked into a wheelchair, her limbs immobile and hands tightly curled, Christine looks around her — at the other visitors, the helpful aides, the strange locale — with a gaze that seems at once incurious and beatific.

Situated in southwest France north of the Pyrenees, Lourdes is thought by Roman Catholics to have been where the impoverished 14-year-old Bernadette Soubirous saw the Virgin Mary in 1858. She was canonized by Pope Pius XI in 1933 and by Hollywood a decade later when her story was turned into the 1943 kitsch classic “The Song of Bernadette,” with Jennifer Jones. Millions now visit Lourdes annually to attend services and drink from and bathe in the grotto waters, thought to have healing powers. It’s been claimed that the water can cure, though, as the Lourdes Web site, lourdes-france.org, puts it: “For a modern mentality, it is difficult to say that something is ‘inexplicable.’ They can only say that it is ‘unexplained.’ ” 

One of the pleasures of this intelligent, rigorously thoughtful, somewhat sly film is that it takes place in the space between the inexplicable (no explanation is possible) and the unexplained (enlightenment might be around the corner). Its director, Jessica Hausner, an Austrian working here in French, wants to explore the mysteries of life, not its certainties. One great mystery, of course, is faith itself, how people come to believe what they do and how those beliefs affect not just their thinking and feelings but also their bodies. For Christine, who speaks most profoundly through the eerie quiet of her nearly inert form — and then later through a possibly miraculous physical transformation — belief is inscribed on the body itself.

The film, which was shot on location in Lourdes — one scene features Cardinal Roger Mahony, the archbishop of Los Angeles, leading a prayer service — is largely organized around the rituals of pilgrimage. Christine, who’s closely assisted by a young woman (Léa Seydoux) who feeds and helps dress her, is pushed here and there. In one scene Christine visits the grotto, her attendant lifting her curled hand to the stone wall. Another time she visits the baths, where grotto water is poured on her head. In between, she eats and sleeps and has encounters with others (including Bruno Todeschini and a very good Elina Löwensohn). Wherever she goes, a shop selling religious souvenirs can usually be seen in the background. 

Contrary to expectation, these repeated images of the souvenir shops don’t function as overt critiques, and there’s nothing in the film as crude as an indictment of the commodification of faith. Ms. Hausner, whose earlier titles include “Lovely Rita,” is more interested in the forms that faith takes, in its individual and collective ebbing and flowing. The mesmerizing opening image — a steadily framed and angled overhead shot of a cafeteria — immediately sets her parameters. As the camera holds on the image, men and women, some in wheelchairs, begin to stream in, as if carried along by some unseen force. They’re merely being seated for a meal, but the elevated angle of the shot and the way everyone drifts in together, as if each were part of a single organism, creates a sense of a collective purpose, a unified calling. 

The few religious conversations in the film mostly take place at the edges of the story, among the other pilgrims, including a few women who serve as something of a humble Greek chorus. Together they help make up a convincing world inhabited by believers and skeptics whose ideas are largely voiced in asides and through their actions. In a wonderfully choreographed bit, a member of the Order of Malta, a religious group, tells a joke in which the Virgin Mary is the (mild) punch line. Meanwhile, in the background, Christine is secretly wheeled out the door by her roommate, an older woman with a lopsided mouth, Mme. Hartl (Gilette Barbier), who seems to think that her own fate is tied to the handicapped woman. 

What happens to Christine is mystifying, simultaneously (as they say at Lourdes) inexplicable and unexplained. Ms. Testud, a tiny actress with an often oversize and ferocious screen presence, delivers a minutely detailed performance that telegraphs a world with a thrust of her chin, a widening of her eyes. Save for the last astonishing shot of Christine’s face — now a whirlwind of expressive feeling — Ms. Testud keeps her performance generally muted, perhaps to help safeguard Ms. Hausner’s secrets. There is, after all, so much that we can’t and don’t know. As one woman says at the end of the film, during a short discussion of God, we do not know who’s in charge. And then this same woman asks a question that puts her spiritual question into comic relief: what, she wonders, is for dessert? Mysteries, as Ms. Hausner attests, abound. 

Opens on Wednesday in Manhattan.
Written and directed by Jessica Hausner; director of photography, Martin Gschlacht; edited by Karina Ressler; production designer, Katharina Wöppermann; produced by Mr. Gschlacht, Philippe Bober and Susanne Marian; released by Palisades Tartan. At Film Forum, 209 West Houston Street, west of Avenue of the Americas, South Village. In French, with English subtitles. Running time: 1 hour 39 minutes. This film is not rated.

WITH: Sylvie Testud (Christine), Bruno Todeschini (Kuno), Elina Löwensohn (Cécile), Gerhard Liebmann (Pater Nigl), Gilette Barbier (Mme. Hartl), Hubsi Kramer (Herr Olivetti) and Léa Seydoux (Maria).

original done by MANOHLA DARGIS at NYtimes