CLOUDS OF SILS MARIA (2015)

April 25, 2015

clouds of sils maria Greetings again from the darkness. Most of us don’t spend much time re-living our past, and we certainly don’t go through the emotional turmoil of analyzing our early lives from a different perspective. This story puts actress Maria (Juliette Binoche) in those shoes and then we watch as she fights, claws and battles her way through.

Maria is a well-respected veteran actress who has been offered a role in the revival of the play that made her a star more than 20 years earlier. The play was written by her mentor, who dies suddenly as she is on her way to visit. Hotshot director Klaus (Lars Eidinger) wants Maria for the role of the older woman, and this is difficult for Maria to accept since she played what she considers the far more interesting younger woman in the first version. Internal psychological warfare breaks out.

Maria’s personal assistant Valentine (Kristen Stewart) struggles to keep Maria informed of today’s world – celebrity gossip is especially key in their conversations. They also run lines together, and the parallels between the play and their real lives are so prevalent that the lines are often blurred between written word and spoken word. Things get really dicey when Jo-Ann (Chloe Grace Moretz) enters the picture as the talented, extremely popular, personally out of control actress slated to play opposite Maria in the play.

These three actresses are exceptional … yes, even you Kristen Stewart haters will be impressed. They each bring extraordinary depth to their role, and all are a bit outside of what would be considered their comfort zone. Their exchanges are fun, but what’s not said is every bit as exciting and key.

Filmed in the Sils Maria area of the Alps, the landscape is beyond breathtaking. Maloja Snake is the title of the play, and it refers to the fantastic cloud formations that snake through the peaks and valleys of this marvel of nature. The scenery is a nice complement to the emotional rides each of the characters take, and writer/director Olivier Assayas ensures that we have no shortage of talking points after the film.

watch the trailer:

 


SONG ONE (2014)

January 21, 2015

 

Song One Greetings again from the darkness. Fresh off her Oscar winning performance and infamous onscreen haircut in Les Miserables, Anne Hathaway stars in this infinitely smaller film from writer/director Kate Barker-Froyland.  A Sundance Film Festival entry, the movie winds through the clubs, coffee shops and second hand stores that make up the indie music scene in northern Brooklyn.

Ben Rosenfield (“Boardwalk Empire”) plays Henry, the kind of musician so enamored with his own folk sound that he is willing to play for pocket change in the subway tunnels. Failing to adhere to mother rule #1, Henry pays the price for not looking both ways prior to crossing a street in front of a New York cabbie. Next thing we know, he is comatose in a hospital bed. Henry’s mom (Mary Steenburgen) beckons wayward daughter Franny (Anne Hathaway) home from her worldly pursuit of a Ph.d in Anthropology.

When last they spoke Franny and brother Henry had one of those nasty sibling fights where angry words were spoken and no apology followed. It’s been six months and now a guilt-ridden Franny sits by his hospital bed hoping for a shot at redemption. She soon discovers Henry’s journal and begins re-tracing his favorite hang-outs and bands. This journey leads her to a meeting with Henry’s musical idol James Forester (played by Johnny Flynn). Lacking suspense, the story leads right where one would expect – James and Franny taking a liking to each other, Franny discovers her own love for music, and the songwriting block that has burdened James slowly breaks down.

The film is at its best in the musical moments. Flynn is a very talented guy as a musician (not so much as an actor), and 5 or 6 live musical acts make appearances as the story unfolds. Most of the quiet scenes between Hathaway and Flynn seem a bit awkward, but not awkward in the good way that leads to real romance. Connection and re-connection are quite common in times of tragedy, as we are at our most emotionally vulnerable state. The biggest issue here is that everything develops just as we would expect … no surprises, no twists. Even the re-connection of Franny and her mother is a sweet scene where Franny sings along to America’s “I Need You”.

Jenny Lewis (of Rilo Kiley fame) and Jonathan Rice co-wrote the original songs used in the film, and as stated, a hand full of other bands perform their own material. For a musically based romantic drama, it does have a couple of really nice scenes, but for the most part, the drama and romance lag the music.

watch the trailer: