DVD Move Review: The Dreamers (2003)

maxresdefaultThe Dreamers (2003) is a film you are supposed to experience, rather than watch. There is far too much going on in Bernardo Bertolucci’s piece to process logically, so you needn’t worry about picking holes in the plot, or anything else. A word of warning, though. If you are against a little bit (okay, a lot) of nudity, The Dreamers may not be for you.

Hollywood sometimes gets a bit squeamish about nudity. It is little surprise then that the many people didn’t warm to the film, or more specifically, some of the ideas and imagery portrayed in it. What is most unfair, though, is to scorch the film based on the director’s reputation, which has been done in the past.

In terms of plot, there are two narratives going on here. There first is a little bit of history for you. Matthew (Michael Pitt), is an American film enthusiast and student. He travels to Paris during the Paris student riots, strikes and protests of the late 60s. There he meets and stays with Théo (Louis Garrel) and Isabelle (Eva Green), who are also lovers of film, and happen to be twins. Expect a lot of English and some French. The Dreamers is very much a visual film, so don’t get too bogged down on the interchanging dialogue. The twins end up sharing their new-found friend with one another, in more ways than you might imagine. That’s where the second narrative comes in. Queue the nudity…

Firstly, let’s get the obvious out of the way. How much nudity are we talking about here? Suffice to say, more than a wee bit. Eva Green goes full frontal, and not just from a distance. We’re talking up close camera work. Michael Pitt’s bits are also plastered on the screen for all to see. In my opinion (though apparently, I’m in the minority), none of the nudity is particularly gratuitous, since it does help to paint a very warped picture of the lifestyle of the twins; their curiosity, for instance.

So, yes, that second narrative. This parallel story concerns the relationship which develops between the three main characters. Naturally, there’s a love story going on between Pitt’s and Green’s characters, and you are kind of hoping in the beginning that Théo might just be a third wheel. Isabelle would disagree, though. You see where this is going? Their relationship makes for fascinating, if uncomfortable viewing at times. It has to be said, I find that the chemistry between Green and Pitt is as cold as ice, but it is scary how in tune Green and Garrel were able to work together. For characters are complex as Isabelle and Théo, that is essential.

After a lot of sexual experimentation, and a lot of throwbacks and homages to past movies, the anything goes attitude of the twins and Matthew, culminates in them participating in the aforementioned riots. After all the smoke is cleared, Matthew walks away from the carnage, no doubt returning to America something less of a prude.

The experience Bertolucci takes you on is a puzzler. Initially, via the first narrative, you are led to believe that The Dreamers is merely about a film about students who love films, in a film by a director who also loves pictures. In such a short space of time, it movies on rapidly to something else entirely. It takes you on a journey, all the while you’re trying to decrypt the feelings and emotions of the trio’s relationship to one another. By the time the most extensive and expressive of the nude scenes is over, you have given up. From there out, as I’ve said, The Dreamers is just an experience, not merely a film.

If you can look past that, and some of the more grotesque elements of those scenes, you’ll find it a heart-warming film, and one which has been clearly thought out. The way the two narratives split apart, and come together again are magical. There are also signs in The Dreamers that Bertolucci is trying to show his admiration for classic films. It is just the way he has chosen to do it, through the “you show me yours, and I’ll show you mine” explorative attitude of the characters, which has people turning away from this film.

Deep is probably not the best word to describe The Dreamers. I prefer layered, or perhaps raw. Whatever your taste in films, there are few like this one. Personally, I like it. It’s different, and I’d certainly recommend it. You know, as long as you’re open to experiencing something slightly outside of your comfort zone.

115 mins.

Cinema Movie Review: Her (2013)

herLove from the machine?

Spike Jonze has created a world in the not-so-distant future where a heartbroken loner like Theodore Twombly (Joaquin Phoenix) has the ability to download an operating system named Samantha (Scarlett Johansson) and – voila – has a girlfriend. Although the relationship is not, at first, physical, the two build the kind of rapport most couples only yearn to achieve. While their connection is palpable, the differences in processing their respective feelings become apparent. Samantha transforms to resemble Spock, or some type of robot, who is coping with the experience of having emotions for the first time. Meanwhile, Theodore is trying to avoid the reality that he is dating his cell phone.

Her (2013) isn’t a normal love story even in our tech-savvy world. When reading the film’s synopsis, I envisioned a Craigslist ad from one of the site’s less-than-wholesome offerings. Something to the effect of: “Operating system looking to provide you with a girlfriend experience. Will laugh at all nerdy jokes… No need to pay for my dinners. Just type in your password and I’m all yours.”

All of Jonze’s previous films (Being John Malkovich (1999) Adaptation (2002) and Where The Wild Things Are (2009)) all take on deeply psychological aspects of life. In Her, Jonze presents themes of mortality and explores our relationships– with each other and technology. Several scenes suggest that we are no longer vested in our interpersonal relationships. Perhaps, like Theodore, we vest more energy in our electronics than in those people with whom we interact. Theodore is the face for this lack of personal communication. He is a professional love letter author, but squirms with discomfort when given praise for his writing ability. He no longer knows how to react in a mature manner in various social situations. He has what appears to be one close friend in Amy (Amy Adams), but notices neither her interest in their burgeoning friendship nor her call for help. In contrast, any praise he receives from Samantha is gobbled up and a sense of accomplishment is exuded.

Theodore and Samantha further navigate each other’s networks and soon have a blossoming relationship. Theodore takes Samantha for long tram rides through town, while Samantha returns the favor by leading Theodore for long walks via her camera’s eye. The two’s connection strengthens and the word “love” surfaces.

As Theodore becomes comfortable with his unconventional relationship, he decides to go on a double date with his boss and his boss’ girlfriend. There is an innocent moment when Samantha poses a question which results in a slightly awkward situation for the couple. However, with her and Theodore, there is never an awkward moment, since she is programmed to know exactly what to say. Theodore soon begins to realize that Samantha’s interactions with him are purely manufactured.

The film then shifts to show how people naively believe they are made for eachother, but eventually one of the two in the relationship begins to grow and a decision needs to be made– stick around and be stagnant or release oneself to greater heights. Theodore’s ex-wife (Rooney Mara) left him due to the fact he was unable to emotionally deal with her personal changes. Now Theodore is confronted with an operating system that is eager to learn and process all the information she can handle. Theodore now squirms knowing his operating system is talking to other operating systems and– worse– other lonely people. Decision time.

In Her, it is the warmth that presents itself within the dialogue and cinema that is most intoxicating. It provides a world that is very real, but also one you feel shouldn’t exist. It always feels wrong to be so emotionally vested in an object that is likely to slip out of your hand into the toilet after one too many lagers. Just as in Before Midnight (2013), we see the consequences technology has on the spontaneity and delicacy of relationships.

Spike Jonze has captured a feeling of true loneliness and confusion in his depiction of Theodore finalizing his divorce. He was also able to bottle Theodore’s euphoria when Samantha and he were at their peak. The notion of the film was aptly conveyed, as I found myself reaching for my iphone, ipad, and ibook to shut them all down for the night. Then I found myself reaching out for bisous from my wife and child, feeling fortunate that I don’t have to rely on technology to fulfill my sense of self worth.

126 mins.

DVD Movie Review: Gambit (2012)

Colin-Firth-in-Gambit-2012-Movie-ImageThe plot thins

Gambit(in chess) an opening move in which a player makes a sacrifice, typically of a pawn, for the sake of a compensating advantage.

Well, it certainly appears sacrifices were made in this 2012 production but it’s really kind of hard to pin down exactly where at first cursory glance over the cast and crew. With all the big stars illuminating the cast you’d be forgiven for believing it was a shoo-in for ‘Comedy of the Year’. The director, Michael Hoffman, is relatively less well-known but has a good few films under his belt and the writing team? Surely the deft fingers of the Coen brothers, who can do no wrong, would be able to idly tap out a major studio hit while resting from writing so many others? You’d think. And yet, this is as flat as a pancake. Based extremely loosely on the original (a belter of a 1966 caper movie with Shirley MacLaine and Michael Caine), Gambit appears to lumber from ill-conceived set piece to ill-conceived set piece with no drive or passion to glue them together into a coherent whole.

I’ll flesh out the plot summary for you, as you’ll probably want to know what you’re getting yourselves into, should you ignore my advice not to see it at any cost. Harry Deane (Colin Firth) works as something of an independent art curator for his obsessive collector boss, Lionel Shahbandar (Alan Rickman), a man he despises. Having had enough of scraping a living working for the ungrateful boss, he hatches a cunning plan with his art-forger friend known only as ‘The Major’ to embezzle his hapless employer out of a sizable fortune. The plan is to get the Major to forge a copy of Monet’s masterpiece Haystacks at Dawn, then photograph it in a place where it would be feasible it had been hidden away for years. To add to the authenticity of the story, they employ the services of cowgirl rodeo rider PJ Puznowski (Cameron Diaz) to pretend it has been in her trailer for years, on account of her grandfather stealing it from retreating Nazis at the end of the second world war.

I wish I could add “…and then hilarity ensues”. However, I’d be doing myself a disservice as a reviewer and you as a filmgoer by pretending otherwise. The direction is as flat as an elephant’s foot, with the cast mired in a shambles that could use a GPS to get out of. The story is a fairly linear affair but you get the impression the cast have just put on different clothes and trusted to luck. Firth is seemingly uncomfortable with a slapstick role and makes a poor fist of being a bumbling fool when he’s so used to being the light-comedic heart-throb, or the guy in the flouncy shirt. Diaz does her best at being a rowdy cowgirl living it up in the big city on Deane’s ticket but I really get the feeling her heart wasn’t in it. ‘Cold’ and ‘wooden’ spring to mind. As for Alan Rickman, the apple of Picturenose’s eye and a man who can quite probably make a silk purse from a proverbial sow’s ear is mere filler in this outing. Characteristically sneering and nasty, he spends the entire time (when not trying to get into the knickers of Puznowski) being sneering and, well, nasty. Without a strong script, this is simply not enough to carry even an on-par Rickman rant or two. Oh yes, the script. What a lot of old tosh. Poorly based on the old movie, even if ever-so slightly, it has none of the pace, nor the wit we have come to expect from the Coens, although the direction may have a hand in the lack of pace and excitement. Do I expect too much of the Coens? I don’t think so, when you consider the quality of the script they penned for the re-do of True Grit (2010).

Mostly disappointing, poorly-used talent and badly paced, Gambit is a bit of a let-down from minute one. The gag everyone finds the most base and cheap is, in fact, the funniest. I wouldn’t dream of spoiling it here but you’ll know it when you see it. Although I’d urge you not to.

89 mins.

Cinema Movie Review: Ain’t Them Bodies Saints (2013)

ain-t-them-bodies-saints10Texan escape

David Lowery has created a classic within Americana cinema. After first viewing, it’s simple to think you’ve seen this film once before. The comparability of Ain’t Them Bodies Saints (2013) to that of Terrence Malick’s Badlands (1973) is more than apparent. Not just due to the storyline being about two young rebellious lovers, but also the use of cinematography and the amount of voiceovers to display a character’s emotions. However, after further review, Lowery is able to supply his own voice and ensure that the story remains fresh and original.

Ain’t Them Bodies Saints’ storytelling relies heavily on the use of memories, space, and mumbles from behind mustaches to resonate a story of heartbreak, life, and outlaws which only the Texan landscape can properly provide. Bob Mulddon (Casey Affleck) and Ruth Guthrie (Rooney Mara) are two passionate juveniles set on living their lives together, no matter the cost. Bob (a small-time crook) and Ruth (recently realizing she is pregnant) immerse themselves in the blissful blindness of young love. Due to a careless mistake by Ruth after a robbery gone wrong, Bob takes the fall for the crime and is given a 25-year prison sentence. As the two are whisked away in a heartbreaking embrace, Bob promises to return to Ruth and to meet their unborn daughter.

As years rolled through their small Texas town, Bob always tried his best to make his promise turn into fruition. Time and time again, his escapes are foiled. But, with true determination, he finally escapes prison, set on starting a new life with Ruth and their baby girl. Ruth, meanwhile, is at a crossroads in her life. Her rebellious past and responsible future have converged. Does she continue to relish in her rebellious past waiting for Bob or does she look for the best possible outcomes for her daughter? As Ruth realizes she is no longer that foolish young woman, she receives word that Bob is coming for her.

The story ultimately evolves into Bob’s ornery determination and Ruth’s decision whether or not to assist in Bob’s capture. Their story and dilemmas provides enough juicy twists and turns, but what pushes the tale to higher levels are the supporting characters. A sheriff (Ben Foster) who has watched Ruth become a mature woman and feels himself a qualified suitor, as does the protective neighbor (Keith Carradine) who has taken Ruth and her daughter in as family. Throw in a couple unfamiliar faces also looking for Bob and asking questions around town, an explosive scenario festers just as Bob makes it into town.

The film resonates with the voice as distinct as the director, David Lowery, and it wasn’t until after my viewing that I realized I’ve previously seen his last piece of work, St. Nick (2009), as it made its way through the film festival circuit. St. Nick told a meditative story about a young runaway brother and sister as they wander the Texas landscape before they try and settle in a small Texan town. There is a lot in common with Ain’t Them Bodies Saints. The storyline in St. Nick was broad and the dialogue was sparse, but what resonated through both projects were the gorgeous scenery, pinpoint editing, and the use of subtlety to tell the story.

What I appreciated most about Ain’t Them Bodies Saints was the delicate balance Lowery gave to the different periods in the character’s lives. The regular flashbacks always provided a purpose that would shift the story or provide a different perspective. Yet, the most powerful creation Lowery was able to conjure was the feeling that all characters truly loved Ruth and they would do anything to ensure her safety.  For that, Ain’t Them Bodies Saints is worth escaping to Texas for.

96 mins.

DVD Movie Review: Before Sunset (2004)

before-sunset_1Memories and molecules

Richard Linklater’s second installment in his Before trilogy picks up nine years after the first chance encounter between Jesse (Ethan Hawke) and Celine (Julie Delpy). The environment shifts from Vienna to Paris. Their adolescence has matured. Life lessons have been learned. However, Jesse and Celine’s connection remains intact.

You know how food tastes better when your eyes are closed? Before Sunset (2004) is like a ripe piece of delectable fruit deposited on your tongue on a warm summer day. Mouth wide open and your eyes wide shut. The intricacies of the sweet flesh and the slightly more tart skin made apparent when all focus is on the tongue is felt equally as intimately when we reunite with the romantic Jesse and the cynical Celine. Somehow even more intriguing, more passionate, more longing than the first time—a feat which seemed improbable—the viewer not only watches but experiences Paris, a lost love and life.

Good movies are made from the sum of integral parts: quality writing, convincing acting and stimulating visuals. Great movies inexplicably combine these aspects and more in a way that is indistinguishable. After having just finished the film, I honestly can’t tell you if Ethan Hawke is a gifted actor or if he really was on the verge of tears in the tender moments shared with Celine. I can’t tell you if Celine is a gorgeous woman or if she was framed by an artist with the beauty of Paris as the backdrop.

In the first film, Before Sunrise (1995), I thought that Jesse and Celine conversed about the topics that only a pensive and clearly philosophical writer develops during the lifetime leading up to the film. At the time, I questioned if a 23-year-old would really be able to communicate such developed thoughts off the cuff with a stranger—even one with which there is a nearly immediate and profound connection. Before Sunset reveals that the writer not only is capable of developing more than we were generously given in the first shot, but the differences in Jesse and Celine’s ages, maturity levels and world views artfully reflect the nine years they were apart. To say that the characters’ love for one another was rekindled, that their relationship took off right where they left it nine years prior would be cliché and minimize the intricacy of their meetings. Much more delicious and textured, we see how two people with a less than 48-hour history connect—first with the spontaneity and desire of young adults and then with the history and repercussions of thirty-somethings.

Where today’s sequels are comprised of risk management rather than artistic inspiration—the past five years has proven that no Superman, Batman or Spiderman will lose money — the Before series does something beyond entertain. Instead of simply giving its audience more of what they enjoyed so much in the first film, the depth of the second provokes the audience to believe in the first encounter even more heartily. In the first film the characters lived in the moment. In the second, the viewer learns that the experience fueled the next four years of Jesse’s writing career. In the first, the characters romantically share wine, walks and inane things. In the second, a smoking scene makes the viewer feel like characters are sharing a post-sex cigarette, when in fact it was only preceded by a conversation. In the first, the characters seem at times naïve. In the second the viewer appreciates the consequences of entitlement Jesse speaks of when talking about young people.

Overall, the essence of the film is captured in a nugget that Celine offers Jesse when she hugs him and says: “I want to see if you stay together or if you dissolve into molecules.”

80 mins.

DVD Movie Review: Before Sunrise (1995)

before2Au revoir?

Jesse (Ethan Hawke) and Celine’s (Julie Delpy) first conversation is about how nature forces men and women to get along better as they become older. “Over time, men are unable to hear higher-pitched sounds, and women eventually lose hearing in the low end.” It’s an appropriate beginning by describing how people simply get along because they no longer are able communicate with one another. These two strangers don’t have that issue, at least not yet.

Richard Linklater’s film’s story is simple. Jesse is traveling around Europe and has a plane to catch the next morning in Vienna. Celine is traveling back home to Paris. The two meet when Celine changes seats caused by a verbal fight between two other passengers. Jesse and Celine exchange glances and soon strike up an innocent conversation. At Jesse’s train stop in Vienna he has an idea. Eager to extend their conversation, Jesse asks Celine to envision herself in the near future and to ask herself whether she would regret not getting off the train for just one night. When she is engulfed in an unfulfilling marriage and has had kids, would there be any remorse that she didn’t give Jesse a chance? Just for one night. Just to talk.

Celine, the curious but calculated spirit that she is, agrees to get off the train. At this point she is unsure about Jesse, but is intrigued. For the next twelve hours, Jesse and Celine walk around Vienna meeting interesting side characters, having their future’s read, and even falling in love.

Jesse seems a little cocky at times. Sometimes he’s a little overly romantic at times, but in a way that it reminds me of a male bird performing an enthusiastic song and dance to attract his mate – see here for an example. Jesse’s arms are in weird positions, as if he’s trying to look comfortable, but failing miserably. Celine notices his effort, but never lets him know exactly where he stands until late in their encounter. The moment of full disclosure comes when the two are seated across from one another at a brasserie. They play an impromptu game of telephone as if they’re calling their best friend about who they met in Vienna. It’s during this conversation that you realize you are drunk with love for these two. You realize they are perfect for each other. You also recognize that they just realized it as well.

During their long walk around Vienna, they encounter several odd characters. Each of which broaden our understanding of each person a little further. How Celine is moved by a poet on the street, but Jesse is hesitant to give praise. Or a hand reader that Celine finds moving. Again, Jesse is sceptical. As the two stroll around Vienna, their talks become more fluid and their interactions become more and more believable.

In the morning when Celine has to catch her train to Paris, it is Jesse’s turn to miss his travel arrangement. (Stay with her, you fool!) You’ll be the one with regret when you have an unsatisfied marriage. Yet they agree they won’t exchange phone numbers or emails, but instead make a pact that in six months they will meet each other on this very platform, at this very time. Six months. I’ll see you then.

There are several themes brought up throughout Before Sunrise that are timeless. These include (but are certainly not limited to) the senses of self-fulfillment, entitlement, memories, and life’s emotions. As soon as they both decided to step off of the train, they allowed themselves to explore and embrace each other and their surroundings. Almost all other actors in the film are a part of the background. Mostly out of focus and non-influential. However, Vienna maintains the film’s focus, allowing the two characters a chance to explore their own emotions and mortality.

In conclusion, Before Sunrise is a film that sneaks up on you. At first you are trying to decide whether you trust their conversations. You’re guarded against their topics, their ideas, and whether they make a good pairing. Then, before you know it, you’ve stepped off a train in Vienna and fallen in love.

105 mins.

DVD Movie Review: Mickey Blue Eyes (1999)


Definitely one to file in ‘Films I Would Never Watch Unless To Keep My Beloved Happy’ is Mickey Blue Eyes (1999) by Kelly Makin, a director who has for the large part succeeded in TV without touching the big screen overmuch.

However, it must be said that I was by and large grateful to the Divine C for ‘suugesting’ that we watch Hugh Grant’s late twentieth-century stab at comedy – Grant plays art-house auctioneer Michael Felgate who, upon learning that his beautiful girlfriend (now fiancee) Gina Vitale (Jeanne Tripplehorn) is in fact the daughter of major mobster Frank Vitale (James Caan), finds it increasingly difficult to distance himself from his soon-to-be father-in-law’s ‘business’ activities, despite his obvious wish to do so and Gina’s insistence that he must. Things only get more fun when a godfather then decides to launder his useless son’s useless paintings through Grant’s art house, and the FBI quickly get involved…

The screenplay, by Adam Scheinman and Robert Kuhn, is the biggest surprise – the film has throwaway star-vehicle written all over it at first glance, but the sharp games that the script allows Caan/Grant/Tripplehorn to play delivers something rather more, with Grant further proving his deft touch at the funnies.

Of course, it is somewhat predictable, and me pointing out the same by second-guessing the ending did not make me particularly popular with my own moll, but criticising a film as charming as this one for being predictable is somewhat missing the point – a genuinely amusing little gem to relax and laugh along with.

102 mins.

Cinema Movie Review: The Great Gatsby (2013)

THE GREAT GATSBYGatsby the ‘not-so magnifique’

Picturenose is simply delighted to welcome Catherine Feore to our hallowed reviewers’ ranks, with her thoughts on Baz Luhrmann‘s take on F. Scott Fitzgerald‘s classic novel. Take it away, Ms Feore.

When I heard that Leonardo DiCaprio had signed up to play Gatsby in a new production of the famous novel I was delighted. DiCaprio is a skilled actor, with the looks and charisma to play the role; when I heard Baz Luhrmann was directing, however, my heart sank.

I adored his Romeo and Juliet (1996), it was true to the original play and, while set in a fast-moving, lurid LA with a throbbing soundtrack, it captured the reckless intensity of young love brilliantly. But sadly, this review is not about that faultless work.

I didn’t see Luhrmann’s Australia (2008) – which seems to have been universally panned – and I didn’t like Moulin Rouge (2001), which lacked any depth or interest, ending up as a fairly empty extended perfume ad, which is what it became. So when I discovered, minutes before entering the cinema, that Luhrmann was involved, I took a deep breath – I knew that it could be very good, or very, very bad.

Nick Carraway, the story’s narrator, played by Tobey Maguire, is first met not arriving on West Egg, but being treated for addiction by a rather disturbing and invasive psychiatrist. This seems to be a tortured device and an unnecessary distraction. The character of Carraway is more contemplative and calm in the book, while also very much a character in the story, he is the perfect narrator to watch the drama unfold. DiCaprio had not yet appeared on the screen, but I was already wondering what possessed him to agree to this mistake, loyalty to someone who had cast him well in a good movie previously, perhaps? A hope that Luhrmann wasn’t going to shoot it as an amphetamine-fuelled remake of The Bonfire of the Vanities (1990)? I started practising my breathing and preparing for the next onslaught – I already had an inkling of what was coming and was having flashbacks to Moulin Rouge and what seemed like endless scenes of the can-can and that incredibly annoying rendition of Lady Marmalade.

So next, we have the parties of the roaring twenties and, as we know, Luhrmann can put on a spectacle like no other, but like a drunk at a party he doesn’t know when the music’s too loud. The parties show the excess of the age but they are also meant to be resplendent with style and elegance, Gatsby is not just displaying his affluence, he wants his party to be the sort of gig where Anna Wintour is going to swing by. Other than the cover of Back to Black by André 3000, the music is pretty prosaic and I found myself longing for music from the Jazz Age. Rhapsody in Blue is used, but is wasted. In general, I am a bit of a zealot when it comes to the use of great music in films – if you are going to steal, you better do it well, compare the Rhapsody in Blue chosen by Woody Allen at the start of Manhattan (1979), which is put to magnificent affect. On the other hand, John Adams’ Short Ride in a Fast Machine is used well for a later scene as the protagonists race into the city to the Plaza Hotel.

I was worried that the film was going to continue in this vein, but Luhrmann was dragged back to relate the story and his casting was close to flawless. DiCaprio, as already mentioned, shines in delivering a convincing Gatsby, much more convincing than Robert Redford’s in Jack Clayton’s 1974 incarnation. Daisy (Carey Mulligan) plays the role well but little is made of the fact that she has a daughter, something that makes her choices more understandable and Joel Edgerton plays the role of her husband Tom Buchanan, a vile WASP jock, to perfection. Even Carraway settles into his narrator’s role. The scene in the Plaza where Gatsby tries to make Daisy confront Tom is the clincher. Gatsby wants Daisy to tell Tom that she has only loved him – it is a moment of deep pathos, the moment when we catch our breath, the moment when I realised that while this film has its flaws, there is still enough in it that is very good.

In the end, Gatsby reveals himself to Carraway, showing his real qualities, those that put the ‘great’ into Gatsby, or as the French would have it ‘Gatsby le Magnifique’ – his transformative will, optimism and in a sense, considering he’s a bootlegger, his integrity. I never studied Gatsby and never really ‘got’ why he is a hero, but I did in this film. However, as Gatsby stares out at the green light emanating from Daisy’s East Egg mansion, I thought wistfully of the beautifully subtle Le Rayon vert (The Green Ray) (1986) by Eric Rohmer – slow, subtle, touching, pretty much the opposite of a Bazza production.

Postscript, post film, I realised that the film is also available in 3D, which might explain some of its peculiarities – especially in the unrelenting and annoying first half of the movie.

142 mins.

Cinema Movie Review: To the Wonder (2012)

affleckmcadamsThe wonder of Malick

‘You shall love. Whether you like it or not.’ If director Terrence Malick’s The Tree of Life (2011) was his Hollywood movie, then To the Wonder (2013) is his indie flick. Please understand that Malick is my favorite director. Therefore, he is like my wife. I am blinded with love and may not be the most cynical critic for this film. With that said, this film was deeply moving, uplifting, and depressing. A film that every person should experience.

Different people have different ways of watching movies, just as they have different ways of learning. You have the viewer who prefers special effects, blood and guts, and brainless visual pleasures. Then there are those that need engaging dialogue or unique topics in order to stay interested. There is one trait that most moviegoers don’t possess that is required for any Malick film, however, and that is patience and flexibility.

To the Wonder tackles much smaller aspects of the universe than The Tree of Life, in which Malick focuses on many existential topics including creationism, morality, childhood, and parental love, whereas To the Wonder deals with more personal feelings of betrayal, love, and having no connection with the world.

It wasn’t until halfway through the film that it was a companion piece to The Tree of Life and The New World (2005) – each is about a person trying to find their place in the world, about trying to find that connection, that relationship. To the Wonder captures an essence of that unrefined love and heartbreak that can only be produced within a relationship—whether the relationship is with your child, lover, or God. Malick presents a love triangle that wrestles with these emotions that everyone has felt at some point in their life.

The Tree of Life was told through the eyes of the family’s eldest child and, during some portions, even Mother Nature, whereas To the Wonder is told mostly through the eyes of a lonely housewife and a priest who is questioning his beliefs. Therefore, you have to put yourself into their situations in order to understand the message being told.

To put my love for Malick into context, The Thin Red Line (1998) was one of the first films I watched growing up that required me to grow up a little in order to truly appreciate what I was watching. It was this film that made me realize that I had a greater interest in the pictures being shown on screen. The music. The pictures. The environment. The content. Everything in Malick’s film spoke to me. I could see what he wanted me to see by showing so little. I compare Terrence Malick films to Pink Floyd. You either consider their works complete rubbish or a life-altering experience.

In To The Wonder, there is very little dialogue and storyline. Images move across the screen and ask for your engagement in order to be understood. Every image is trying to communicate to you. When dialogue does occur, it means something.

‘Emotions they come and go like clouds. Love is not only a feeling. You show love. To love is to run the risk of failure, the risk of betrayal; you fear your love has died. You perhaps are waiting to be transformed into something higher.’ These are the words spoken by Father Quintana (Javier Bardem), who has lost his love for God. From the slums within his town to the bedsides at the hospice center, he is searching for meaning. He gave his life to serve God, but no longer loves him, yet he continues to serve because he made the decision.

Father Quintana is only a part of the story. Merina (Olga Kurylenko) and Neil (Ben Affleck) meet in Paris and he asks for her and her daughter to move to America. Each person resembles where they come from. France is shown as a landscape with unparalleled beauty. There are everlasting oceans and energetic, lively cities. Cities with determined, but content people. There are buildings and sprawling trees. There isn’t much space in the city, but the land feels free and uplifting. As for America, it is shown as a place of sprawling landscapes. It’s a place where anything can be built (and will be built) but is also the place where the earth is pillaged to the detriment of the local population. America is lonely, ugly, and orderly. America’s open spaces and lack of character are suffocating. We don’t see lively people in its streets. We see parades with people in wheelchairs, obesity and oil production.

Through Malick’s way of showing more images than dialogue, he portrays Merina as a woman of natural beauty who is not afraid to show her happiness. Neil, on the other hand, doesn’t show any of his emotions while in public. Soon after Merina moves to the States, she and her daughter no longer love Neil and move back to Paris. Neil rekindles a lost love in Jane (Rachel McAdams). Just as quickly as their love flared it was smothered.

Merina moves back to the US under questionable pretenses, and there is still something missing. She takes refuge in Father Quintana, another foreign friend, and another man. We see recurring images of water and its sources. To great effect, we see polluted streams and sweeping oceans. I believe this is Malick’s method of showing that in order for love to be sustainable it needs a natural source.

One of the reasons why I have declared The Tree of Life to be my favorite film of all time is how deeply I associated with its main character. I related to the young child as he began to comprehend the world. How the child makes the connection when he is no longer a child and will soon become an adult. Maybe it is because I have always had such a great relationship with my wife, but I just couldn’t connect with anything the main characters were feeling during To the Wonder. Well, I guess I did connect with Merina in her disgust for Neil.

Known for getting any actor he wishes, Malick gives the audience Ben Affleck, who was unfortunately a terrible choice. In fact, it was the worst possible choice. Every scene with him was a fracture to the soul of this otherwise beautiful film. I cannot express the unmoving portrayal this ‘A-list’ ‘actor’ ‘performed’. Affleck is always walking behind the women in such an awkward way that you’d think he’s clinching a penny between his butt cheeks. Every shot of him from behind, it looks like he’s clinching his back muscles, while Merina moves with fluidity and childlike vulnerability. Pauly Shore would’ve given a better performance.

So, was this film a masterpiece or a miss? You’ll have to be the judge. For me, if Affleck would have instead directed another movie about himself being the hero and saved this role for someone with more talent, I really think it could’ve been a masterpiece.

The brightest spot of this film was Kurylenko. Every look and every motion seems legitimate and genuine. Every frame belonged to her. Just as Jessica Chastain soared in The Tree of Life, Kurylenko matches the spirit of the film and takes it to new levels. Thankfully, she was up to the task.

Overall, To the Wonder is a film of raw emotions, yet most people will despise it. If you’ve never seen a Malick film before, I will recommend The Tree of Life, The Thin Red Line, Days of Heaven (1978) and The New World, in that order, before I’d recommend To the Wonder. Still, for me (even with Affleck), it is and will be one of the year’s best.

112 mins. In English, French, Spanish and Italian.

Cinema Movie Review: L’écume des jours (Mood Indigo) (2013)

Mood-IndigoleadIn the mood for Gondry

Compulsory reading for any French teenager, Boris Vian’s 1947 novel Froth on the Daydream, from which L’écume des jours (Mood Indigo) (2013) is adapted, is one of those texts that one probably finds out too young and too quickly to enjoy it at its best, or to appreciate its various flavours. Michel Gondry‘s adaptation gives us a chance of re-reading it in a interesting way, as while he somehow betrays the novel and turns it into a Gondry film, he probably delivers the best interpretation possible.

Colin (Romain Duris) is a young man who does not need to work to make a living. He lives in a phantasmagorical post-war Paris, surrounded by his two friends, Nicolas (Omar Sy), his cook, and Chick (Gad Elmaleh), his obsessed-with-‘Jean-Sol Partre’ friend. He spends most of his time listening to jazz, and making up dream machines such as the ‘pianocktail’ – how could Gondry not fall in love with this invention? When Colin meets the delicate Chloé (Audrey Tautou), it is love at first sight and their marriage is full of happiness until Chloé suffers from a strange disease. She has a water lily growing in her lung and, even though she tries to deny it, breathing becomes more and more difficult for her. All of a sudden, Colin and Chloé’s life is totally transformed. Colin even has to work in order to pay for Chloé’s treatment and their own appartment begins to shrink, to become darker and darker, as spiders’ webs grow all over the place.

The most accomplished scenes of the film involve Gondry’s visual revelations, especially those that remix the chronological references. Nicolas, for example, looks up in his agenda on a sort of black and white Rubik’s Cube, as if the 1940s, the 80s and the 2010s meet through this kind of low-tech smart phone. The ancestor of a search engine is materialized by people launching requests and treating them manually like old phone operators would have done. In other words, the theory of Colin’s neighbor, an old woman who says that the walls getting closer to each other evoke the feeling of shrinking space that comes with age, is proved wrong when it comes to Gondry’s imagination, which expands with time. And in Mood Indigo, his jubilation is clearly noticeable.

If the second part of the film flounders in some lenghty parts, one can also blame Gondry’s fidelity to Vian’s novel, in which the characters are somehow unreal, as there is no point in describing precisely their psychology. Therefore, one does not feel very moved by Chloé’s state of health worsening. But Gondry also partly eludes this pitfall, thanks to perfect casting (Omar Sy, Alain Chabat), even including the extras.

In the end, one has perhaps not been amazed and delighted by such a visual inventiveness since Delicatessen (1991), but at the same time, Gondry sometimes gives the impression to be overwhelmed by the machinery he has given birth to, as if, at some point, the creator lost control of its creature. In Be Kind Rewind (2008), one of Gondry’s most affecting films, two video-club employees decide to save hundreds of films from the oblivion by ‘sueding’ them, that is reshooting them with what is at hand. It is this ‘sueded’ tone that somehow misses in Mood Indigo, although the film remains very pleasant and sometimes even really stimulating.

125 mins. In French.

Cinema Movie Review: Silver Linings Playbook (2012)

THE SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOKPlay-safe ending takes edge off

To begin, Silver Linings Playbook (2012) was nominated for eight Oscars including Best Picture, Best Actor (Bradley Cooper), Best Actress (Jennifer Lawrence), Supporting Actor and Actress (Robert De Niro and Jackie Weaver), and director (David O. Russell).

SLP begins as a film tackling mental illness and the ways a person’s psyches can destroy their life and the lives around them. Then the film ends up being a cheesy croquette with an over-indulgent and gushy centre.

Pat (Cooper) is just released from the mental hospital and assures his mother, Dolores (Weaver) that everything is going to be OK. But based on her constant worried expression, we know she’s heard this statement many times before and without the expected result. Pat has been diagnosed with bi-polar disorder after nearly killing his wife’s lover and is refusing to take his medication due to the side effects and how they make him feel. The situation has gone from being potentially volatile to potentially dangerous. Determined to do anything possible to save his marriage (the issue that caused him to be incarcerated at the mental hospital), Pat’s mood swings are almost always manically upbeat until the conversation moves to his wife and repairing his marriage. He proves to be blindly in love and committed to do anything it’ll take to repair their marriage.

Pat Sr. (De Niro) is introduced as a man with a different type of mental illness, but one no one chooses to diagnose throughout the film. He has gambling addictions and can be viewed as OCD. Pat Sr.’s excessive yearning for his son Pat’s presence during Eagles games is just as unsettling as Pat waking up the household at four in the morning screaming about Hemingway. Although Pat Sr. wants to desperately help his son, he reinforces Pat’s crazy antics with his own. At the center of every argument and inquiry is Dolores. Instead of offering solutions, she is the loving mother who offers to compromise by making everyone’s favorite dishes if we all just settle down.

As the film builds its tension Pat is introduced to Tiffany (Lawrence) who is also battling her own mental issues with her recent husband’s sudden death. The two quickly connect in an opposites attract scenario and begin relying on one another to move on to the next phase of the their life. Tiffany realizes she can find friendship without having to sleep with someone, while Pat wants Tiffany to breach Pat’s wife’s restraining order and send her a letter Pat wrote. The two develop an interesting and basic relationship that usually includes him saying something inappropriate with her acting shocked only to then say something herself just as shocking.

The film leads us to believe that it is a drama about mental illness and then quickly shifts to an over the top romantic comedy. GROUP-HUG EVERYBODY! I was fully on board for the first hour until Tiffany pulls a mic-drop statistical breakdown on Pat Sr., causing him to suddenly realize his own shortcomings and become a changed man. I’m so sure.

Every year there is one film that is critically acclaimed that I just cannot stand. I think this film just replaced Argo as my choice for 2012 (past films include: The Help (2011), The King’s Speech (2010), Avatar (2009), Slumdog Millionaire (2008)). David O. Russell has proven he is an actor’s director. He can bring in a slew of great talents (he got Chris Tucker!) and gets great performances out of them. This was easily the best film for Cooper who nailed his role in so many ways that he should have won best actor. Lawrence, however, should have won for Winter’s Bone (2010) and instead received a make-up award in this year’s ceremony. I don’t even think she should have been nominated for this role. Her character was there to do nothing other than look good and be snarky. Lastly, this was also the best film De Niro has been a part of since The Score (2001), and I can see why he was nominated.

Overall, the film is very well acted and the first half of the movie is very good, but the safe ending kind of killed it for me.

122 mins.