Tuesday, April 01, 2014

Chair de poule

Chair de poule - 1963

Julien Duvivier is best known in the United States for 'Pépé le moko'. But he had quite a distinguished career that lasted from 1919 to 1967 and included over 70 films. Jean Renoir is noted to have said: "If I were an architect and I had to build a monument to the cinema, I would place a statue of [Julien] Duvivier above the entrance….This great technician, this rigorist, was a poet."

I've seen few Duvivier films but each film I have seen is impressive in one way or another. Even if he was just knocking off a genre picture. One such film is Chair de poule [translates as Goosebumps but was also known as 'Highway Pickup']

It's a French film noir and the plot is rather typical. A criminal named Daniel [Robert Hossein] after being caught robbing a safe escapes from a train on the way to prison, finds himself in a remote location where he is befriended by a man, Thomas [Georges Wilson], and his wife, Maria [Catherine Rouvel] who run a roadside restaurant and gas station. It's evident rather quickly that the young wife is not interested in her older husband. The only reason she hangs around is because he has a fortune of money stashed away in a safe. Daniel, it turns out, is a safe cracker. Once Maria finds out this convenient fact she decides to double-cross her husband with this handsome criminal. However, Daniel wants nothing to do with her.

Enter Paul [Jean Sorel] Daniel's partner in crime who in the we saw in the movies first scene manage to escape and avoid Daniel's prison fate.

The plot thickens.

I don't want to recount the plot or give anything away but suffice it to say the film fits into that niche we might call cynical noir.  It builds to a very satisfying conclusion. The story is not Duvivier's. It is based on a novel by James Hadley Chase titled Come Easy Go Easy. But it is well directed and it's terrifically entertaining.

The reason the film is not well know is most likely because it has no big movie stars we can associate with. The biggest being Jean Sorel who was in 'Belle de Jour' and 'The Day of the Jackal'. But it's got big talent behind the lens. The cinematography is by Léonce-Henri Burel who shot Abel Gance's Napolean as many Robert Bresson films. The score is done by Georges Delerue. It would be nice to see this film get the Criterion treatment at some point. Or just any old release will do. Look for it.

Wednesday, March 05, 2014

Resnais from memory

This will be possibly the worst reviews you will read of any of Alain Resnais' films. I will attempt in his honor to write memories I have of some his films without actually re-watching them. Some I haven't seen for 10 or 15 years.

Hiroshima mon amour
He’s an Asian architect

She’s a French actress
Love making and crying
Breakfast on a rooftop
Flashback in a cellar
Contemplation of life and death
And love...

Last Year at Marienbad
Everyone’s at a party in a castle.
People walk around in a quiet black & white world.
Some guy is doing card tricks.
Did any of it ever happen?
Even their shadows don't show up sometimes.

Muriel
Muted colors.
The Algerian war is in the past
Or is it the present?
A young man.
A woman.
The memory of war = depressed characters

La guerre est finie
A revolutionary has many girlfriends.
He attempts to drive across the border.
At one point a woman walking down the stairs suddenly becomes many women.


Je t'aime, je t'aime
Man in a bean bag looking contraption.
Spun through fragments of time.
Mouse on the beach.
Scenes repeat until he goes mad and the machine breaks.

Providence
John Gielgud as a misanthrope with hemorrhoids.
Ellyn Bursten talks in a man’s voice sometimes.
Violence. Anger.
Expensive chateau. 
Reconciliation.

Stavisky
Political scandal
Belamondo in 20’s style
Wears nice suits
Drives a nice car
People talk a lot

Mon oncle d'Amérique
Human and animal behavior
French actors
A beating heart
Rats

Wild Grass
A woman dentist
An older man
A handbag
A shared love of aviation
A promise of romance.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Older Film Discoveries 2013

I watched more old movies last year than any year since I've been tallying up the movies I watch. Here are a few of the highlights that were discoveries for me.

An Enemy of the People [Satyajit Ray, 1989] - An adaptation of a Henrik Ibsen play about a doctor who believes the holy water at the nearby temple is contaminated. He faces a lot of opposition including from his brother who is determined not to let the news out.

The Earthling [Peter Collinson, 1980] - The dying journey of a dreamer who meets a young boy lost in the wilderness after the death of his parents. A movie that is both tough and touching but without being sappy. [I wrote it about it here].

Hard Times [Walter Hill, 1975] - Charles Bronson plays Cheney a drifter who travels around the south during The Great Depression earning money by prize fighting and beating just about everyone in sight. A streamlined tale directed by Walter Hill [his first] with no frills just solid action.

Heidiko The Bus Conductor [Mikio Naruse, 1941] - My discovery of Naruse continued last year and this fun short film about a young woman who comes up with the idea of a starting a bus travel guide business on in her small town. A delightful comedy romance.

Justin De Marseille [Maurice Tourneur, 1935] - A French gangster film set in Marseille about a suave but likable gangster who attempts to set the black market business right. A film that captures a particular locale with color and mood and characters in ways that are purely French - but not Parisian.

The Last Valley [James Clavell, 1971] - Novelist James Clavell directed this historical drama set in the 17th century that pits a captain who leads his group of rough shod soldiers into a quiet valley where they consider their next move. Surprisingly good considering it's B-movie trapping.

Millions Like Us [Sidney Gilliat and Frank Launde, 1943]  This is one of best British propaganda films made during the war. Tightly scripted, well acted and directed it combines humor, drama, tragedy and the characteristic positive British attitude.

A New Leaf [Elaine May, 1971] - Elaine May's first and possibly best film about a rich man who is soon to lose his fortune and decides to marry a very naive woman whom he plans to kill for the insurance money. A comedy and while not always politically correct or comfortable full of many laughs.
Quatorze Juillet [Rene Clair, 1933] - Clair is best known for Le Million and À nous la liberté but, in fact, this movie is more in the classic tradition of French films of the 1930's. And in my view certainly as good.

A Pig Across Paris [aka Four Bags Full] [Claude Autant-Lara, 1956] - A terrific French comedy set during the Occupation in which Jean Gabin - an erstwhile artist - decides to help [or maybe it's hinder?] his new found friend get pork delivered around Paris. A true classic that deserves to be discovered.
  
Rome Ore 11 [Giuseppe De Santi, 1952] - Italian drama about a group of women searching for a job in a tough market who experience an accident while waiting in line for an interview. A film right on the heels of Italian neorealism but with a romantic twist.




Here were a few I knew about and finally caught up with.

Applause [Rouben Mamoulian, 1929] - Classic early talkie that used sound in novel ways.

The Blue Lamp [Basil Dearden, 1950] - Awesome British crime drama.

Breakfast at Tiffanies - [Blake Edwards, 1961] Yeah, I know, I hadn't seen this until last year.

The Breaking Point - [Michael Curtz, 1950] John Garfield in a noir classic version of Hemingway's To Have and Have Not.

Contraband - [Michael Powell, 1940] World War II drama with Conrad Veidt as a Danish sea captain who uncovers a Nazi spy ring.

The Lady and the Beard [Yasujiro Ozu, 1931] I had a chance to see this twenty years ago at an Ozu retrospective but passed up the chance. Glad I finally saw it.

Witchfinder General [Michael Reeves,1968] - Terrific British horror drama featuring one of Vincent Price's best roles.

Zoo in Budapest [Rowland Young, 1933] - Always loved the title. And Loretta Young just shines.

Wednesday, January 01, 2014

Best Movies 2013

I watched more movies in 2013 than I have ever watched and I still feel like there are great films I missed. Nonetheless, it's time to make the annual list. Here are the top ten films I saw in 2013.

1) Inside Llewyn Davis - The movie that stayed with me longer than any other this holiday season. Melancholic, melodic and humorous it's a film that shows the Coen Brothers at the top of their game. It's also nice to see one of their characters garner our sympathy a bit. [Some say he is unsympathetic but in my view he simply makes bad choices and knows when he screws up].
2) Gravity - Hollywood - with the talents of Alfonso Cuarón - found how to use IMAX 3D without overdoing the 3D and yet immerse us in an awesome story of survival.
3) Upstream Color - Shane Carruth jumbles his narrative in such a way that is at once perplexing and impressive. At the heart is a movie about doubts and loneliness that just happens to push the narrative envelope a bit so we pay attention.
4) Short Term 12 - If there was justice in the big bad film world then this SWSX winning film by Destin Cretton would be nominated for best picture and Brie Larson would win best actress.
5) Hannah Arendt - This movies dares to tread where few movies do; into the world of intellectual battles. At the heart this movie, by Margarethe von Trotta, is a woman who chose to defend a common
sense idea over common sense.
6) Stories We Tell - Sarah Polley went in search of the mom she
never knew and in the process she found herself.
What else are documentaries supposed to do?
7) All Is Lost - Robert Redford lost at sea for a couple hours, working hard to survive but doomed to sink all without saying anything except 'Fuuuuuuuckkkk!'. What's not to love? J.C. Chandor shows with only two films he has considerable range.
8) Tim's Vermeer - Penn & Teller take on Vermeer. Or more exactly Vermeer art historians in this fascinating, engaging documentary. The theory is certainly debatable but the process of creating a Vermeer is undeniable.
9) The Past - Asghar Farhadi makes films about the complexity of human relations. This is his second film about the effects of divorce and while it may not be as rich as his last film it still offers much more than the average 'divorce picture'.
10) Becoming Traviata - I know what you're saying; What is Becoming Traviata? It's a behind the scenes documentary about a staging of Traviata at the Aix-en-Provence Festival. Presented by Philippe Béziat as a fly on the wall approach it avoids all the reality TV b.s and just shows us professional singers and a director doing what they do best. I was riveted.

The next twenty [alphabetical]:
American Hustle
The Attack
Blue Jasmine
The Company You Keep
Computer Chess
Drinking Buddies
Fill the Void
Frances Ha
The Great Beauty
Her
Lore
Mother of George
Museum Hours
Nebraska
Oblivion
Pacific Rim
Rush
Something in the Air
A Touch of Sin
Wadjda
The World's End
              

Sunday, December 01, 2013

Current Movie Links

The real life Philomena.
“They really make me look like a silly billy, don’t you think?” she said. But Ms. Lee says she accepts the screenwriters’ efforts to inject some lightness into the film because, “otherwise, it is a very sad story.”
The Great Beauty follows a misanthrop.
"The underlying theme of the film is not so much the decadence of Rome and all that, it really has to do with this fact that people deep down, as horrible, bizarre and gross as they can be, deep down they all have a fragility. And people living that life are trying to find a way to distract themselves, with gossip, being frivolous, going to stupid parties and all that."
10 Remakes of Classics by Great Auteurs.

Barbara Stanwyck - no lady of leasure.
Stanwyck, even in her liveliest comic performances, never quite erased a palpable aftertaste of bitterness, and even in her most hard-boiled roles never lost the trace of painful vulnerability.
David Cronenberg - Evolution
Cronenberg is a filmmaker of ideas, one being the notion that human beings have merged with technology. His protagonists are often cyborgs as, in some sense, he is as well—not a commercial director with artistic aspirations so much as an avant-garde filmmaker who has contrived a commercial career, in part by remaining in Canada.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Only God Forgives

Only God Forgives



The latest movie by Nicolas Winding Refn is hardly the disaster that some critics have made it out to be. Far from it, actually. For starters, the cinematography by Larry Smith is amazing. And the set design is a knock out; the characters all seem to exist in a remarkable post rain storm Bangkok exterior and dark neon, glossy. color saturated tableaux interior, which all help to give the film the look of a live action, hothouse, graphic novel.

True, the story isn't much. A man kills a teenage prostitute, her father kills him, the police are involved in a cover-up and Ryan Gosling and mom [Kristin Scott Thomas] come seeking revenge. Amid all of this the themes of morality, judgement, loyalty and betrayal are all swirled together in the narrative like the neon noir that it is. But, like many comic books, the whole story is at the service of the visuals and the style. Yes, the film is an exercise in style. Yet, at 90 minutes, it hardly overstays its welcome because every frame offers up something visually remarkable to behold.

I would say the expectations of Refn after the huge success of Drive - and a long string of other good movies - was such that it pretty much sunk this movie in the eyes if the critics before it was even shown.

But there is a lot here to savor. Other than the look of the film there is Kristin Scott Thomas giving a deliciously bitchy performance as Gosling mother, there's a dream-like, symbolic quality to the editing, which alternates between the reality of what we are seeing and the visions and dreams and flashbacks [or are they flash forwards?] that are in the head of the characters. There's also the dark, deadpan humor that is often accompanied with some sharp, vicious violence. And an engaging, ambient musical sound-scape score that keeps the movie creeping forward [some would say slowly].

In short, I believe Refn and his cast and crew knew exactly what they were up to and what they wanted to achieve with the film. It can be argued that perhaps Refn needs a producer to rein him in. He certainly, too, seems to benefit from having a co-writer as was the case with his last three movies.

Yes, Only God Forgives is not the film of the year and it's also not the film that pushes the range of Refn's talent. But who cares? I would still say this film is pure unfiltered Refn. If you like the way that sounds then dive on in.


Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Lost Island of VHS...XIV

An Unforgettable Summer - Lucian Pintilie - 1994

Even though in the past few years there have been maybe half a dozen notable Romanian films most moviegoers in America can count the number of Romanian films they have seen on one hand. But prior to that the pickings were mighty slim. One film that some may have seen would have been An Unforgettable Summer. However, they likely wouldn't have seen it because it was Romanian or because it was directed by Lucian Pintilie. They would have seen it because it starred Kristin Scott Thomas who was hot off of Four Weddings and a Funeral.

The story, which takes place in the 1920's, is about an army officer who with this wife and three kids is essentially exiled to a garrison out near the Macedonian border. The officer is Captain Petre Dumitriu [Claudiu Bleont] who is a short, monocled man who follows orders without questioning them. His wife [Kristin Scott Thomas] makes the best of the situation by bringing a bit of sophistication to the household, and treating everyone - including the Bulgarian peasants who work for them - with respect. However, after they are there a short while, there is an attack by some Macedonian bandits who kill some of the Romanian soldiers on duty. Captain Dumitriu is commanded to circle the wagons and take no chances, which includes the strict instructions to execute the Bulgarian peasants. An order which his wife is adamantly opposed to. What's a Captain in the army supposed to do? Especially when on the one hand his wife will never respect him again and on the other his subordinates are chopping at his heels to get his job.

Pintilie directs the movie in a stately manner filling the frame in foreground and background and some nice camera movement. He also has some occasional dynamic flourishes [the movie's opening and ending in particular are amazing]. And, yes, Ms Thomas speaks Romanian in the movie. How can we not be impressed by this charming polyglot?

The film's conflict comes down to will Captain Dumitriu follow or disobey orders.

It's more than worth seeing it if you can find the VHS.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Venezia 70 - maestro shorts

In celebration of the 70th Venice International Film Festival the Biennale di Venezia created a special project, Venezia 70 – Future Reloaded.

70 movie directors from all over the world were invited to make a short film lasting between 60 and 90 seconds, in total creative freedom. The invitation was accepted by great maestros, well-known directors, and young filmmakers of recognized talent.

Future Reloaded is both a collective movie tribute to the Festival (the world’s first film festival to celebrate its 70th edition) and a reflection on the future of cinema, as filtered through the personal artistic insight of each of the participating directors.

They are a mixed bag for sure.
Here are a few I found interesting.

Bernardo Bertolucci
Catherine Breillat
Atom Egoyan
Kim Ki-duk
Yorgos Lanthimos
Edgar Reitz
Walter Salles
Hong Sang-soo
Paul Schrader
Krzysztof Zanussi

Wednesday, September 04, 2013

Telluride Film Festival 40



If there was one theme for the 40th Telluride Film Festival it was that of survival. Most obvious were J.C. Chandor's All Is Lost with Robert Redford isolated on a doomed sail boat out in the Indian Ocean, Gravity with Sandra Bullock and George Clooney careening through space [in 3D] after an accident, Tracks with Mia Wasikowska playing Robyn Davidson who trekked across Australia with camels and the documentary about a group in the 1930's who got more than they bargained for in The Galapago Affair: Satan Comes to Eden.

Less obvious but with noticeable survival traits were 12 Years a Slave [a free black man is enslaved and tries to escape], Labor Day [lonely single woman with son attempts to survive an escaped convict who has invaded her home], Palo Alto [teens surviving upper class malaise, drugs, sex and each other] and Bethlehem [a Palestinian teen and Israeli agent trying to survive the violence endemic to the Middle East].

One could find any general theme if they think about it enough but when you're at a festival who has time to think? It's just go, go, go. I managed to see 14 movies between 7pm on Thursday and noon on Monday, which is a pretty good feat considering I did not have a festival pass. I just chose the right films at the right times.

A Few Highlights:

Ida [pronounced eeda] - Shot in black and white with an Academy aspect ratio of 1.33:1 and rather subtle on emotions this unassuming Polish film by Pawel Pawlikowski, was one of the better films I saw. A nun [Agata Trzebuchowska] learns about her past from a cousin who takes her to her birthplace. Set in 1962 - with World War II still an active memory - the nun is suddenly faced with life changing facts. Her cousin is the complete opposite; a middle aged, lonely alcoholic woman who was a former Stalinist judge. Directed with great precision and skill the film could pass for actually having been made in 1962 and few would know it wasn't. Ultimately, a great film about identity and fate.

Tim's Vermeer - A documentary that - if true - could change art history. The theory that Vermeer painted his masterpieces using optical, mirror or camera obscura tricks is not new but the concept has always been a theory. Until now. Tim Jenison a Renaissance man, inventor and all around decent guy decides to see if he can paint a Vermeer using a mirror technique. Directed by Teller of Penn & Teller fame the film sets out to debunk the concept that Vermeer painted with miraculous, supernatural skill. Like some extended magic trick the film delights and surprises. There are those who may think the message is that Vermeer cheated but, in fact, it shows he may actually have been an inventive genius.

Bethlehem - This is an intense Israeli movie, by first time filmmaker Yuvol Adler, about an Israeli agent who has befriended a teenage Palestinian whose brother is a terrorist suspect. Who’s using who? Who’s betraying who? Many conflicts ensue as it emerges from a convoluted beginning to an effective ending with good action and solid characters.

The Lunchbox - This film, by Ritesh Batra, was one of the hits of the festival. Its a good romantic comedy about a lonely wife in Mumbai whose lunches she cooks for her husband end up going to another man. He, an older gentlemen soon to retire, falls in love with the food and then - after exchanging notes in the lunchboxes each day - falls in love with her. Will they meet? Should they meet? What’s for lunch? [Salman Rushdie called it 'The best Indian film in a long time."]

All is Lost - Robert Redford sails. Sailboat sinks. We can’t let an icon die! This is a very engaging film despite no dialogue and one actor. Director J.C. Chandor uses the wide expanse of the ocean to - as one friend noted - ironically create a claustrophobia effect. Is it lenses, directing or Redford's skill? Who knows? Just go along for the ride. One tag line I heard was that it is Life of Pi without the tiger or Castaway without the volleyball.

Before the Winter Chill - A French film by Philippe Claudel - with Daniel Auteuil and Kristin Scott Thomas - that is so subtle it will scare away everyone except lovers of sophisticated French films. Middle-aged husband, doctor, father bored with life becomes intrigued with a young woman who isn’t what she appears to be. Is he entering a new phase of love or the danger zone? I loved it. Its complex, has intriguing mystery and interesting plot parallels throughout that leave the more discerning viewer thinking about what has happened and why.

Nebraska - Alexander Payne delights and depresses in equal measure in this film about an elder guy who is convinced he has won a million dollars from a publisher clearinghouse sweepstakes ad. Bruce Dern plays old and confused really well. I would have liked to see a bit more acting on his part because he has the talent. But it is good to see him working. Good guy. Good film.



Ralph Fiennes, Bruce Dern, Léa Seydoux, Adèle Exarchopoulos

Good But Problematic:

Labor Day - Jason Reitman has been on a roll but his new film is a bit of a stumble. This one, based on a best selling book by Joyce Maynard, is Reitman's first foray into drama / suspense / romance. The acting is top notch, the editing, pacing, direction and overall design of the film is very good. But the plot is one that suffers a bit if you stop to think about it too long. It's a film that will make some people cry because of its romantic angle and yet others may cry due to the waste of good talent and a potentially better story that could have been made from the same material.

Gloria - This Chilean film by Sebastian Lelio is about a lonely 50 something woman, mother of two, who drinks too much, dances too late into the night and has relations with too many men. Problem is, despite all this, the film is somewhat dull for the first hour. Then suddenly it picks up nicely in the last half hour as she deals with a boyfriend who is much older than her but far more immature. The central performance by Paulina Garcia is very good [she won best actress in Berlin].

Palo Alto - Gia Coppola, much like her aunt Sophia, has a real gift for capturing poetic images, naturalistic mise-en-scène and blending them with a great soundtrack. She also gets a lot of good performances out of a film that falls somewhere between American Graffiti and Kids yet remains rather unsatisfying as a character study of two lonely teens - amid a bunch of other disaffected teens - who just can't manage to hook up. Emma Roberts stars along with James Franco and Teddy Kilmer.

Prisoners - This one, by Denis Villeneuve, is well worth your time if you like terrifying suspense thrillers that expertly use red herrings to make you jump. However, like Labor Day, if you stop to think about it too much you'll find holes all over the place. It's also got Hugh Jackman on a slightly ridiculous testosterone high whereby he kidnaps a kidnap suspect and tortures him for a week. This is a film that asks; When are we justified in taking the law into our own hands? Jake Gyllenhal is the one who gives an amazing performance here - like he did in Zodiac, with which this one has similarities. On the plus side, at two-and-a-half hours, most will actually not want the movie to end.

There were many other good films I missed but hope to see eventually such as Blue is The Warmest Color, 12 Years a Slave, Manuscripts Don't Burn by tributee Mohammad Rasoulof, Fifi Howls From Happiness, Gravity and Under the Skin [which seemed to be universally hated], The Past and Inside Llewyn Davis by tributees Joel and Ethan Coen - along with T Bone Burnett.

As always there were a good number of older films presented over the weekend but a many of them - such as The Big City (Mahanagar) [Criterion] and L'enfance Nue [Criterion], Portrait of Jennie [MGM] and The Terminal Man [Warner Archive] are available on home video. Of course, the main interest in them was that they were presented by famous former guest directors such as Salman Rushdie, Phillip Lopate, David Thompson and Buck Henry. The one really rare film was the Cuban film One Way or Another which was presented by B Ruby Rich. I would have liked to see that one but couldn't fit it in. Then of course, there was Mark Cousins with his idiosyncratic intelligence who had two films playing; A Story of Children and Film and Here Be Dragons.

Two rare silent films played to live musical accompaniment; He Who Get's Slapped - a silent Lon Chaney film directed by Victor Sjöström and A Simple Case - a rare [and very messy] Pudovkin film. In years past I mainly only see the older films. But this year I felt it was time to get in on preview wagon. Either way it's always worth it just being in Telluride, seeing old friends and talking about movies.


Photos by Matt Langdon

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Stand Firm



Short Term 12 has got heart, soul, comedy, drama, poignancy and it will take you down a path few movies do in any serious way. It's not just top notch 'indie cinema' it's good cinema all around. The directing and writing by Destin Cretton will make you wonder how this could be a first feature. The performances by Brie Larson and John Gallagher Jr are so genuine you feel they aren't acting. In fact, the whole cast is impressive. Go see it.

Thursday, August 08, 2013

No Companions

The Canyons

The Canyons is neither as radically good or as notoriously bad as one would want it to be. It's not the disaster that some critics call it  - or that some Lindsay Lohan haters want it to be. Yet, by the end, it is nothing more than a competent film, which is pretty much what it seemed it would be from the time it was presented by Paul Schrader and Bret Easton Ellis on Kickstarter.com looking for funds.

Part of the issue is that the male lead , James Deen, doesn't have the acting chops or the screen presence to make his role effective. He's, of course, known for other talents and it shows. He's no Richard Gere; an actor I would not call great but one whom kept us engaged in American Gigolo.

Lohan, on the other hand, can act and does have an interesting presence on screen. Director Paul Schrader has been quoted saying that Lohan - although tough to work with - has that extra something that shows in the dailies and that's why he hired her. But that something isn't of the variety one gets from, say, Jennifer Jason Leigh. Lohan gets a passing grade for attendance but she doesn't really stretch her abilities much here.

The other issue is the script. This being a Bret Easton Ellis script we get nasty, clean cut characters romping around Los Angeles acting badly. But it all feels rather flat and uninteresting. Nasty characters can be good fun but you need a trashy element or something more compelling than simple jealousy and deceit driving the narrative. One of my favorite Schrader films is The Comfort of Strangers. In that film there is a really eerie, evil quality lurking beneath the surface that eventually boils over. In this film, however, when the violence comes it feels cliché. In that film the Christopher Walken character is a control freak but you can feel his magnetic pull. Once he has you in his grasp you won't get away. In this film James Deen is a control freak but he had no power. He's just a punk with a trust fund living in a Malibu hills mansion. He seems very easy to ignore. Lohan, however, plays a character very much dependent of him. Yet it's just not believable.

The film opens with a series of photos of closed, run down movie theatres. Its a melancholic, creepy opening that nicely accompanies the dead souls on screen. Each day [or chapter] in the film is also preceded by a similar photo. What is Schrader telling us? Is the death of cinema = the death of Los Angeles and hence the death of our collective selves? Perhaps. But despite this movies are still being made. The story itself revolves around the making of a low budget monster movie, which most of the characters are preparing to shoot out of town. And then there is Lohan and Deen who frequently shoot three and four way sex scenes with their phone. This is undoubtedly the hapless, dead-end future of cinema.

Schrader was raise a Calvinist and then turned away yet he hasn't completely divorced himself from some of the tenants about evil in the world. His films tend to exhibit a low howl warning about empty lives and the deceit, paranoia, cruel mind games and violence that can arise from having no moral anchor. And when salvation comes it's often in odd or ironic ways. In his world the good guys usually don't exist and the bad guys often find a way to win. In this film, however, it's easy to feel indifferent to the entire mess transpiring on screen. By the end you may feel it would have been more fulfilling to just hang out in the Malibu hills and watch the trees blow in the wind.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Women Empowered

A selection of recent movies I've seen have shown various aspects of women empowerment. Seen through this lens here is a short review of each film. What we see in a lot of these films is women making choices on their own without a male figure saving them. With the exception of one film each of the women set off on their own. [Spoilers are revealed].

Augustine - This French film is about a woman in 19th century who is misdiagnosed by a neurologist as having some form of sexual hysteria. She is literally poked and probed by the doctor with whom she develops an affair. Her empowerment comes from her ability to manipulate the doctor and his all male colleagues into believing that his diagnoses actually work. Then she steels away into the night to her freedom.

The East - Brit Marling plays an undercover agent who commiserates so strongly with the eco-terrorists she is investigating that she considers joining them. But when she does she does it on her own terms. Having seen the truth she doesn't join them so much as make the causes her own and develop her own organization. Granted this all happens at the end credits.

Fill The Void - This is perhaps the most interesting of the bunch. In this film a young Israeli woman's sister dies and she is persuaded to consider marrying her sister's husband. But no one pushes her. Quite the opposite she is told to do whatever she thinks is best. She chooses not to pursue the marriage but she realizes that she has almost complete control of the situation. She begins to believe she is empowering herself when, in fact, she is sliding right into tradition.

Francis Ha - This is primarily a Greta Gerwig vehicle in which she plays an aspiring dancer in New York city who has little talent, no job and can barely keep her self above water financially. After her best friend moves out she is left on her own to try and make ends meet and get her shit together. Somehow, mainly through force of will and a positive attitude [and because it's a comedy], she manages to eventually make the kind of choices that will fit her specific talents.

Hannah Arendt  - Sometimes empowerment comes at a cost. Especially if you are a writer who attempts to explain the ways of evil in philosophical terms when those affected by violence only understand it in visceral terms. If Hannah Arendt were a man maybe no one would have cared. But staking a strong unique view on the Holocaust - while debatable in the classroom - was not welcome to the greater number of Jews who were listening.

Stoker - Mia Wasikowska plays a young woman who discovers secrets about her family which lead her to tap into the madness of her genetic make-up to advance herself into adulthood. Make no mistake, she is a blossoming femme fatale but from first frame to last we cheer for her to come through, which includes killing the only male figure left in her life and leaving behind her weak-willed mom.

Stories We Tell - This documentary by Sarah Polley is essentially about how she becomes liberated by going back and investigating her own family and her own origins. The enlightenment comes when she realizes her talent and drive come not so much from a mother she never knew but from her mother's secret about her true father. It's a detective story about finding oneself.