RENOIR (France, 2013)

May 10, 2013

renoir1 Greetings again from the darkness. Admittedly, I expect more from independent films since there is usually no committee of producers sucking the life out of the filmmaker’s vision. While writer/director Gilles Bourdos teams with Cinematographer Ping Bin Lee to deliver a film that carries the visual beauty of its subject’s paintings, it somehow offers little else.

Veteran French actor Michel Bouquet (acting since the 1940’s) captures the essence of a 74 year old Pierre-Auguste Renoir, one of the masters of the Impressionist era. By this time (1915), Renoir is in constant pain and continues painting despite his gnarled hands courtesy of severe arthritis. He has relocated to Cote D’Azur (the French Riviera) to live in peace with nature and the warmer weather … as well as his sons and 4 servants. His estate is gorgeous and provides the backdrop for many paintings. We meet his newest model, 15 year old Andree Heuschling (Christa Theret). Her spirit inspires not just Renoir the artist, but also his middle son Jean (Vincent Ruttiers), sent home to recover from his WWI injuries.

renoir2 Both father and son seem to objectify the beautiful and spirited Andree, neither being capable of an adult and equal personal relationship. The frustration with this movie stems from its unwillingness to offer anything other than observations of its characters. It meanders through days with no real purpose or insight. This despite having subjects that include one of the greatest artists of all-time and his son, who went on to become a world famous movie director. The story, if there is one, just kind of lays there flat, surrounded by beautiful colors and textures.

Auguste Renoir died in 1919, but earlier that year managed to visit the Louvre and view his own paintings hanging in the majestic renoir3halls. Jean Renoir married Andree and cast her in his first silent films (as Catherine Hessling). When the films flopped, they divorced. She went on to a life of obscure poverty, and he directed two of the greatest films in history: Grand Illusion and The Rules of the Game, both must-sees for cinephiles.

Alexandre Desplat provides another fine score, leaving us lacking only a story or point to the film. To learn much about Pierre-Auguste Renoir, it is recommended to read the biography his son Jean wrote.

my review of Grand Illusion

https://moviereviewsfromthedark.wordpress.com/?s=grand+illusion

my review of The Rules of the Game

https://moviereviewsfromthedark.wordpress.com/?s=the+rules+of+the+game

rare video of Pierre-Auguste Renoir painting (actual footage starts at 24 second mark):

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UA4pRAZQY3g

 

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RUST AND BONE (De rouille et d’os, Fr, 2012)

January 1, 2013

rust Greetings again from the darkness. Director Jacques Audiard offers up a much different story than his previous film, the powerful A Prophet. Audiard co-wrote the screenplay with Thomas Bidegain based on a short story from Craig Davidson, and the result is a quasi-love story with very little traditional romance.

The two lead performances are simply outstanding. Marion Cotillard plays Steph, a free-spirited Orca trainer at a Sea World type facility, who becomes a double amputee after a freak work site accident. Matthias Schoenaerts (Bullhead) is Ali, an emotionally stunted single dad who has all the qualifications of a big time loser … though with a glimmer of goodness. Their two lives intersect when Ali is working as a bouncer at a nightclub, and then again after Steph’s accident.

rust2 It’s very interesting to see how this story is treated by a French writer/director as opposed to how it might have been handled by a US filmmaker. Audiard allows much quiet simmering by the two lead actors as they both work through their own disabilities – hers physical, his emotional. They both straddle the fine line between human frailty and internal strength, often with the help of the other. It’s not difficult to imagine an American take on this story focusing on the Steph’s painful rehab and struggle to adjust, while also zeroing in on Ali’s physicality as a street brawler and sex machine.

rust3 Cotillard is a true movie star and Schoenaerts soon will be. It’s so rare these days to see two strong talents in such a “little” movie, especially one in which neither character comes close to approaching glamorous – and Ali is not even likable most of the time. This is a well written, well acted character study that points out how a good soul can often save another who might not even care to be saved.

Alexandre Desplat provides yet another strong score – this one complimented by many familiar songs. For those who tend to spend there movie time with only American films, this is one that will provide proof of just how different the view can be through the same camera lens.

**NOTE: very effective CGI allows for many intimate scenes featuring Steph after the amputations

watch the trailer:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vyAJDL3mTxI

 


ARGO (2012)

October 15, 2012

 Greetings again from the darkness. “Based on a true story” is always a bit unsettling to see at the beginning of a movie. There are so many degrees to truth (especially when told by Hollywood), that we are never really sure how big the dosage might be. With this film, we get the inside track on the all-too-familiar Iranian hostage situation that began on November 4, 1979 and ended 444 days later with the release of 52 U.S. Embassy workers. The story within that story is the focus … six escaped as the Embassy was being seized.

The film begins with a Cliff’s Note history lesson on the fall of the U.S.-backed Shah of Iran and the assumption of power by Ayatollah Khomeini. The six who escaped were welcomed into the home of the Canadian Ambassador Ken Taylor (played with grace by Victor Garber). Of course, this had to be kept secret or a terrible situation could have taken a turned much worse.

 This story really takes off when the CIA gets involved and drums up a scheme to extricate the six in hiding. Ben Affleck stars as Tony Mendez, the real life CIA Agent, who uses the international fascination with movies to create a plan that involves making a fake Star Wars rip-off with the help of award winning make-up artist John Chambers (Planet of the Apes) and a long-time and old school Hollywood producer named Lester Spiegel. These two inject the film with humor and positive energy as played by John Goodman and Alan Arkin. Their levity is much appreciated given the unrelenting tension delivered by the rest of the story.

 This is extraordinary filmmaking thanks to the script from Chris Terrio, realistic camera work from Rodrigo Prieto and top-notch directing by Ben Affleck … yes, the same Ben Affleck who stars in the film. The team creates a period piece that has not just the look and feel of 1979-80, but some of the most gut-wrenching on screen tension since Three Days of the Condor or Munich. Many thrillers utilize car chases and gunfire. Here, we get personal tension thanks to politics and real life unknowns.

The film is perfectly cast and strong support work is provided by Bryan Cranston as the CIA chief, Kyle Chandler as Hamilton Jordan, Bob Gunton as Cyrus Vance, as well as Chris Messina, Zeljko Ivanek, Richard Kind, Clea DuVall and Tate Donovan. There are also brief appearances by Philip Baker Hall, Adrienne Barbeau and the great Michael Parks.

There are only two negatives to the film. First, Ben Affleck is miscast as Tony Mendez. The closing credits show what a perfect job they did with the rest of the cast, but to have a superhero looking American walking around Iran is certain to draw attention where it’s not wanted. Plus, as director, Affleck suffers from Warren Beatty syndrome. He LOVES seeing his face on screen. The number of Alleck close-ups has to push 20. It’s too much too often. Secondly, the final escape scene at the airport is just a bit too Hollywood and really stands out from the rest of the movie. There was no shortage of tension and the Armageddon style chase just looked cheesy.  However, I will admit, the audience with whom I watched, reacted quite emotionally when the race ended how it must.

 Those two things noted, this is Oscar material for sure. If you remember this era, the yellow ribbons and news clips featuring Cronkite, Koppel and Brokaw will bring back a frustrating time in U.S. history. If you are too young to remember, this acts as a reminder of just how powerful and quiet the CIA can be when it is doing its job properly.  Plus it’s nice to see the CIA doing something right, instead of being the bad guys from the Bourne movies.  Alexandre Desplat delivers a fine score, but the story provided plentiful suspense, so the musical guidance wasn’t as crucial.

Don’t miss the final credits as we hear Jimmy Carter narrate his memories as President, and we see real life photos of the six escapees.

SEE THIS MOVIE IF: you wish to see one of the finest Political thrillers in years OR you need proof that the CIA can be the good guys

SKIP THIS MOVIE IF: the Iranian hostage ordeal is still too fresh

watch the trailer:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w918Eh3fij0

 


MOONRISE KINGDOM (2012)

June 5, 2012

 Greetings again from the darkness. Not many people think like Wes Anderson. That’s probably a good thing in real life. It’s definitely a good thing for movies. He is a creative and distinct filmmaker, though not one with mass appeal. My two personal favorites of his are The Royal Tenenbaums and Rushmore. His previous film, Fantastic Mr Fox, was a solid hit and critically lauded. Now he delivers one that will probably only click with his core fans. It’s a thing of beauty … if you keep in mind that beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

Set on the fictional New Penzance Island off the coast of New England in 1965, the movie opens with terrific visuals of the Bishop family’s lighthouse/home. Our tour is conducted as if the home were a dollhouse, and our eyes struggle to keep up with the detailed decor. We are struck by the color palette of tans, greens and splashes of red. This will continue throughout the movie.

The story centers around two 12 year old misfits: Sam and Suzy. Sam is an orphan and outcast in his Khaki Scouts troop, and Suzy is misunderstood and ignored by her selfish parents, who communicate with a bullhorn and through legalese at bedtime (they are both lawyers). Sam and Suzy are attracted to each other’s misery and decide to run away together (yes, they are on an island). This ignites a flurry of activity on this quiet island and showcases two first time actors with remarkable screen presence: Jared Gilman (Sam) and Kara Hayward (Suzy).

 The “grown-ups” on the island include Suzy’s parents played by Bill Murray (a Wes Anderson regular) and Frances McDormand. The island police chief is played Bruce Willis, who we soon figure out is also a social outcast. The Scoutmaster is played by Edward Norton with a regimented weirdness that will have you laughing in confoundment. For such serious topics, Mr. Anderson and co-writer Roman Coppola provide us many comedic moments – both through dialogue and site gags.

During the search, other colorful supporting characters get involved. Social Services is pursuing Sam. Tilda Swinton plays Social Services. In one of the few gags I’ll give away, Swinton’s character only introduces herself as Social Services. This is a gut punch to a system that is often under-staffed and forgetful of it’s true mission. We also get Jason Schwartzman as a very helpful, though slightly seedy, Cousin Ben. Harvey Keitel plays the senior Scoutmaster who is unhappy with Norton for losing a scout. Bob Balaban makes periodic appearances as a narrator … either for a documentary or for the movie, depending on the moment’s need.

The script does a wonderful job of capturing how the 12 year old brain works. Some of the scenes with Sam and Suzy are almost like looking a photo album … exactly the way our childhood memory works. Flashes of moments. The Alexandre Desplat score is heavy on percussion, but it works well with the minimalistic look of the film. It’s also interesting to note that this is one of the few movies where it makes sense to have a soundtrack with Benjamin Britten, Hank Williams and Mozart! If you go to this one, keep your eyes open and moving, and your ears receptive. The payoff is worth it.

SEE THIS MOVIE IF: you are a devoted fan of Wes Anderson OR you are ready for an example of what makes indie films so intriguing to those of us who crave them

SKIP THIS MOVIE IF:  your movie preferences lean towards straightforward entertainment rather than off-beat dialogue from disturbed characters

watch the trailer:


IDES OF MARCH

October 9, 2011

 Greetings again from the darkness. Political thrillers can be so juicy and filled with “gotcha” moments and “oh how could he/she” scenes. Inevitably, most come down to an “I believed in you” showdown and reckoning. This latest one based on the play Farragut North by Beau Willimon, gives George Clooney an opportunity to play out his political aspirations without opening himself to the real thing.

Clooney also directs and the smartest move he made was assembling an ensemble cast of some of the best actors working today. Clooney plays Pennsylvania Governor Mike Morris, who is one of two still-standing Democratic Presidential contenders on the verge of the Ohio primary. His Campaign Manager is grizzled campaign veteran Paul, played with staunch principals and a black-and-white rule book by Philip Seymour Hoffman. Their talented and idealistic Press Secretary Stephen is played by Ryan Gosling, who talks more in the first scene than he did in the entire movie Drive. Their opponent’s manager Tom Duffy is played by Paul Giamatti. Duffy oozes cynicism and seems to have misplaced the rule book that Paul holds so dearly.

 The film begins with the set-up so we get a feel for just how strong or weak of character each of these men are. Morris (Clooney) is obviously an Obama-type idealist who claims his religion is the US Consitution. He says this while gently poking fun at his opponent’s Christian beliefs. We see just how talented Stephen (Gosling) character is at handling the words that his candidate speaks and we see Paul (PSH) in full back room politico maneuvering.

 The film has two huge points where the mood swings. The first is a contrived, definite no-no meeting between the ambitious Stephen and the shrewd Duffy. The second is a sequence between Stephen and a 20 year old campaign intern named Molly (Evan Rachel Wood), who also happens to be the daughter of the Chairman of the DNC. These two events turn the film from political thriller to melodramatic Hollywood fare. That doesn’t make it less of a movie, it’s just different than it began.

 Cat and mouse games ensue and we see just who is the master manipulator amongst a group of professionals. This is one of those films where the individual pieces are actually more interesting than the whole pie. There are two really excellent exchanges between Gosling and Hoffman. Ms. Wood steals her scenes with ease. Jeffrey Wright nails his brief time as a desperate Senator negotiating the best deal possible. Giamatti’s last scene with Gosling is a work of art. The only thing missing is a confrontation between Giamatti and Hoffman. THAT alone would be worth the price of admission.  We also get a glimpse of the give-and-take gamesmanship between the campaign (Gosling) and the media (Marisa Tomei).

You might be surprised that Clooney actually minimizes the political meanderings, though he does get in a few jabs at the Republicans. This is more character drama … how far can your ideals and morals carry you. What is your breaking point? Where is the line between realist and idealist? Is it betrayal if you act for the right reason? The final shot of film is superb. Et tu, Brute.

SEE THIS MOVIE IF: you don’t mind a mixture of political drama and traditional Hollywood melodrama, especially when performed by a group of top notch actors OR you are convinced that only Republicans do bad things

SKIP THIS MOVIE IF: you only want a full-fledged political expose’ around running for political office OR you still believe that politicians and idealists are above reproach.

watch the trailer: