ONE WILD MOMENT (2018)

September 26, 2018

 Greetings again from the darkness. In 1977, French Producer-Writer-Director-Actor Claude Berri directed a film version of his own original screenplay entitled IN A WILD MOMENT. In 1984, director Stanley Donen’s (SINGIN’ IN THE RAIN) final feature film was an Americanized remake that inexplicably left Mr. Berri as uncredited. Perhaps that’s how Berri preferred it, since Donen’s BLAME IT ON RIO was atrocious and nearly unwatchable despite a cast that included Michael Caine and a 21 year old Demi Moore. This third iteration, directed by Jean-Francois Richet (who co-wrote the adapted screenplay with Lisa Azuelos) does credit Berri, and returns the material to France where it’s a better fit.

Best friends Antoine and Laurent take their teenage daughters Louna and Marie (who are also best friends) on holiday to Antoine’s childhood home in the Corsica countryside. The house is a bit rustic and neglected, has spotty (at best) internet, includes a family burial plot, and is miles from town. The only neighbor is an elderly gentleman and his roaming dog. The girls aren’t nearly as taken with the serenity as their dads seem to be.

Both dads are loving and protective of their daughters, though the usual teenager-parent squabbles occur regularly. Watching the interactions between the dads and daughters, between the two men, and between the two teenagers is quite entertaining and exceedingly believable. Of course, the core of the story is what happens in one “wild” moment when Laurent is simply being supportive of Antoine’s daughter Louna – and her teenage crush of the older man shifts into seduction. A late night naked frolic on the beach crosses the line that should never be crossed. Laurent instantly regrets the action, and Louna falls “in love” like only a teenager can.

The rest of the movie becomes an uneasy dance of lies, threats, insinuations and betrayals. Most of it is handled with a comedic intentions, and that compounds the feelings of queasiness and disgust that we have towards Laurent and his unacceptable and unforgivable (and illegal) actions. We see the two men frazzled for much different reasons. Though he doesn’t know the identity of the “older man” who took advantage of his daughter, Antoine is obsessed with tracking him down and making him pay. On the other hand, Laurent is desperate to keep the secret from his friend, and that forces him to play along with Louna’s taunting games.

Two of France’s biggest stars, Vincent Cassel (MESRINE) and Francois Cluzet (THE INTOUCHABLES, TELL NO ONE) play Laurent and Antoine, respectively, while Lola Le Lann (age 19 during filming) and Alice Isaaz are Louna and Marie. Mr. Cassel and Ms. Isaaz are especially effective – he in a no-win role, and she leaving us wanting even more characterization.

Though it was filmed more than 3 years ago, it’s now getting a second life. Original writer Claude Berri is probably best known for his stellar work on JEAN DE FLORETTE and MANON OF THE SPRING, and we can’t help but think his script would work better in contemporary times if the comedy turned much darker and made it abundantly clear that Laurent’s actions were entirely unacceptable – instead of leaving his response to young Louna’s come-on as understandable. The film is produced by Thomas Langmann, the son of Claude Berri, and kicks off with the beautiful and familiar version of “La Mer”, a 1946 song by Charles Trenet.

watch the trailer:

Advertisements

DIFF 2017: Day Seven

April 9, 2017

The Dallas International Film Festival runs March 31 – April 9, 2017

 It’s Thursday and we are in the home stretch for the festival. Only four days remain, and a second wave of new films and filmmakers has hit the schedule. By the end of today, I will have watched 22 DIFF movies with 3 full and exciting days to go. Below is a recap of the three movies I watched on Thursday April 6, 2017:

 

 

IT’S ONLY THE END OF THE WORLD (Juste la fin du monde)

All it takes is either Vincent Cassel or Marion Cotillard in the cast, and a movie becomes a must-see for me. Combine both of them with some other terrific French actors: Lea Seydoux, Nathalie Baye and rising star Gaspard Ulliel, and then have the project directed by daring young filmmaker Xavier Dolan (Mommy, 2014), and the pieces are in place for an important and stimulating cinematic experience. Then again, sometimes having the pieces just isn’t quite enough.

Based on the play from Jean-Luc Lagarce, the film begins with Louis (Mr. Ulliel) on a flight back home for the first visit with his family in 12 years. Louis is now a successful writer, and the reason for his trip home is to deliver some important news … news that requires a face-to-face gathering. As he enters the home, it’s obvious there are significant underlying issues with these folks. The family dynamics are light-years beyond strained, and what follows is 99 minutes of yelling, bickering and blaming. It’s a miserable experience for Louis, and unfortunately for us viewers as well.

Ms. Cotillard’s Catherine is subservient wife to Mr. Cassel’s Antoine, the bitter brother who doesn’t seem overly joyous that Louis has finally decided to visit. Ms. Seydoux is the little sis who barely has memories of Louis living at home, but desperately wants to form a bond while he’s present. The matriarch is played by Ms. Baye who has the best and most honest line of the film. She tells Louis: “I don’t understand you. But I love you.” That line could have been the title of the film as it seems that none of these people have any understanding or empathy for the other family members, though there is a connection that only relatives can share.

Mr. Dolan films everyone up close creating a sense of claustrophobia and annoyance that takes the dialogue to near breaking point on a few occasions. He also employs some extremely creative camera angles with some of these ultra-tight shots. Lastly, you aren’t likely to see a more fitting or effective use of a cuckoo clock in any movie this year. Its role as a metaphor is clear, and just as clear … these people are themselves cuckoo!

 

ELLA BRENNAN: COMMANDING THE TABLE (documentary)

Actress Patricia Clarkson narrates this profile of restaurateur-extraordinaire and incredibly dedicated, successful and influential businesswoman Ella Brennan. For anyone who has eaten at Commander’s Palace in New Orleans, the flavorful impact of Ms. Brennan is surely known. However, there is so much more to her story and documentarian Leslie Iwerks does a thorough and entertaining job of serving up the details.

Whether or not you consider yourself a “foodie”, you’ve likely heard of Emeril Lagasse and Paul Prudhomme – two of the first celebrity chefs. Both got their start thanks to Ms. Brennan, and both still credit her for much of their success. The story begins in the 1940’s when Ella was just out of high school and her much older brother Owen put her to work in his restaurant. She studied vigorously, both through books and observation.

To fully appreciate this amazing woman, the era must be considered. Women in business were rarely provided opportunities, and from an industry perspective, food was not yet a national obsession. Ms. Brennan bucked both by building a business and generating national interest in various types of food, flavors and meals.

When a family feud caused a split and the loss of Brennan’s restaurant on Royal, Ella opened Commander’s Palace, a now globally famous eatery that is must-dining for locals and tourists alike. Director Iwerks chronicles changes in menus and chefs, and focuses on Ms. Brennan’s commitment to running a business the right way, and being a vital part of the community. Never is this more evident than in the aftermath of Katrina in 2005. Her story is the ultimate success story of a self-made woman who preserved through good times and bad, and her legacy is not likely to be forgotten in the culinary world.

 

SPETTACOLO (documentary)

For those of us a little rusty on our Italian, it’s pronounced spe-TAK-ola and it means “the show” or “the play”. That is the perfect title for a documentary on the Tuscany region farming town of Monticchiello. On April 6, 1944, the townspeople took a stand against the German invasion during WWII, and for more than 50 years the town has staged a live presentation to maintain their bravely-earned voice.

More than an annual tradition, the play is a lifelong commitment that proves how art and participation can connect those within a community. Co-directors Jeff Malmberg (Marwencol) and Chris Shellen take us through the early stages of planning where discussions are held to determine this year’s “hot topic”. This determines the focus of the play and what will be discussed and presented. What follows is script writing from long time director Andrea Cresti, stage building, and hours upon hours of rehearsal. Along the way, we learn how the younger generation is showing little interest in the tradition, casting doubt on not just the future of the play, but also the identity of the town.

In an effort to help us better understand the folks involved and just what it means to the community, the film moves at a very deliberate … ok, pretty darn slow place. Of course, this is Tuscany, so the topography and landscape are breathtaking – including one stunning shot of summer’s sunflowers. The film captures the difficulty in maintaining tradition, and as Mr. Cresti states, it might be better if the play ends before losing all meaning.


MY KING (Mon roi, France, 2016)

September 8, 2016

my-king Greetings again from the darkness. We have all had that friend who falls head over heels for someone we know is not good for them. If we are a dutiful friend, we make every effort possible to open their eyes before it’s too late. Sometimes they are simply too far gone to listen … and what follows is a roller-coaster of emotions, or even an outright train wreck. Writer/director (and sometimes actress) Maiwenn, who was once married to director Luc Besson, finds much to examine in the roller-coaster relationship of Georgio and Marie/Tony.

The story is viewed through the eyes (and recollections) of Marie/Tony played with exuberance by Emmanuelle Bercot. After a skiing “accident”, Tony goes to a rehabilitation center to receive post-surgery treatment. While her knee is healing, she also spends her time self-analyzing a tumultuous and destructive relationship with her ex Georgio (Vincent Cassel). It’s easy to see the parallels for her learning to walk again, while also learning to live again.

Tony is a successful criminal attorney and self-described “normal” woman. She falls hard for the exciting Georgio, a life-of-the-party type. Tony’s brother Solal (Louis Garrel) and Georgio’s suicidal ex Agnes (Chrystele Saint Louis Augustin) are both against this relationship, but it’s challenging to stop the love bug when it hits this hard. The film acts as a blueprint of how relationships and falling in love can start strong, build to a crescendo, and then crash and burn.

Georgio has many childlike characteristics. He is fine when he gets his way, but explosive and manipulative at the drop of a hat. He is fully engaged in phase one which is filled with passion, lust, fun and excitement; however, once the everyday toil and maintenance of the relationship is required, his bi-polar personality becomes difficult to watch.

Addiction plays a key role here. Georgio is addicted to freedom, partying, and drugs; Tony is addicted to the excitement and passion that he delivers to her “normal” life. There are some cinematically rare “real life” scenes scattered throughout, and none better than the couple’s first time in bed, and a later dinner scene where Georgio’s charm and manipulation skills are on full display as he puts Tony in a no-win situation.

Vincent Cassel has joined Mads Mikkelsen on my short list of actors that I will watch regardless of the project. His screen presence is powerful and emotionally-driven, and here he generates both admiration and disgust at varying times. We understand why Tony is in a “can’t live with him, can’t live without him” mode. Emmanuelle Bercot (also a writer and director for other films) manages to cover the full spectrum of emotions during the film, and she takes us along for the self-reflection. We pull for her even as we question her sanity at times. Somehow we get it … he’s the king of jerks, but he’s her king. If only she had listened…

watch the trailer:

 


TALE OF TALES (Italy, 2016)

April 20, 2016

tale of tales Greetings again from the darkness. Fairy tales have long been a fruitful source for movie material. Some, like Disney productions, land gently on the family/children end of the scale; while others like the Brothers Grimm material are much darker and adult in nature. And now, along comes director Matteo Garrone and his blending of three stories loosely based on the 17th century tales published by Giambattista Basile … and “black comedy” falls short as a description.

Mr. Garrone is best known for his chilling look at an Italian crime family in the award winning Gomorrah (2008), so a trilogy of demented monarchial fantasies may seem a bit outside his comfort zone … but grab ahold of your crown jewels and be ready for just about anything.

A very strong opening leads us into the first story about a King (John C Reilly) and Queen (Salma Hayek) who are by no one’s definition, the perfect couple. The Queen’s inability to have children leads her to strike a deal with a Faustian seer who promises a baby to the royal couple. The only catch is that the King must kill a sea monster, and the Queen must eat its heart after it’s properly prepared by a virgin. Yep, it’s pretty dark and pretty odd. Of course, as with all actions, there are consequences (albino twins of different mothers) … some of which are not so wonderful.

The second story involves a lecherous King (Vincent Cassel) who falls in love with a local woman based solely on her singing voice. Much deceit follows and the actions of two sisters (played by 3 actresses – Hayley Carmichael, Stacy Martin, Shirley Henderson) and some supernatural aging products lead to a twisty story of romance that can’t possibly end well for anyone involved.

The third of our 3-headed story is the strangest of all, as a King (Toby Jones) nurtures a pet flea until it grows to behemoth size. Yes, a pet flea would be considered unusual, but eclipsing even that in uniqueness is the King’s willingness to offer the hand of his daughter (Bebe Cave) in marriage to a frightening ogre who lives a solitary life in the mountains.

These three stories are interwoven so that we are bounced from one to another with little warning … which seems only fitting given the material. Knowing the theme of the three stories does not prepare one for the details – neither the comedy, nor the dramatic turns. All actors approach the material with deadpan seriousness which adds to the feeling of a Grimm Brothers and Monty Python mash-up.

Alexandre Desplat provides the perfect score for this oddity, though the audience may be limited to those who can appreciate grotesque sequences assembled with the darkest of comedy. The moral to these stories may be difficult to quantify; however, it’s a reminder that actions beget consequences no matter the time period.

watch the trailer:

 


BEAUTY AND THE BEAST (La belle et le bette, France, 2015)

January 28, 2016

beauty and the beast Greetings again from the darkness. If you are looking for dancing tea cups or singing candelabras, you’ve come to the wrong movie. If you are looking for the Gothic approach to the dark psychological analysis of the original story … again, you’ve come to the wrong movie. Director Christophe Gans (Silent Hill, 2006) offers up a version that is neither animated Disney (1991) nor Jean Cocteau (1946), though his film does have a visual flair that will likely keep audiences (it’s not for very young kids) engaged throughout.

The familiar story was first written by Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot de Villenueve in 1740, however, it’s the revised version from Jeanne-Marie Leprince de Beaumont in 1756 that provides the fairy tale/fable that has been filmed so many times since. The story’s genealogy based in France instills a bit more hope and responsibility in a project starring Vincent Cassel, Lea Seydoux and Andre Dussolier, and directed by the Frenchman Gans.

Ms. Seydoux is an admirable Belle, and her grace and beauty make for quite the contrast to her needy and entitled sisters. Her time in the castle with the Beast is limited, and therein is the film’s biggest weakness. We never really see the transformation of the Beast to a man who repents, turns over a new leaf, and is worthy of love … it all just kind of happens thanks to the beautiful dresses. Mr. Gans and Sandra Vo-Anh co-wrote the script, and this misstep deflates the core of the story. We are on our own to interpret the messages of class warfare, greed, and judging others by looks. The focus instead is on the visual presentation, which at times is spectacular.

The set design and costumes are especially impressive and elaborate, and though the look of the Beast may not be precisely to your imagination, the film isn’t shy about putting him front and center with the camera. Vincent Cassel’s time as the Prince is pretty well done, and the CGI and explanation of the gold doe, nymph of the forest, magic healing water, pack of beagles and the curse are enough to move the story along … even if some details are lacking.

A bedtime story being read to two young kids is the framing device and might explain why the fantasy world is emphasized over the dark psychological undertones (more prevalent in the Cocteau version). While some might view the ending as somewhat mawkish, it’s really nice to see happily-ever-after is not twisted into some contemporary take on independence.

watch the trailer:

 


TRANCE (2013)

April 19, 2013

trance1 Greetings again from the darkness. Director Danny Boyle won an Oscar for Slumdog Millionaire, and he also brought us the wicked Trainspotting and the extraordinary Millions. He is also the guy behind the presentation of the Olympic ceremony in London and the stage version of Frankenstein. Mr. Boyle is very talented and unafraid of risk. You will have to decide for yourself if this one pays off, as viewers seem to be falling on one side or the other.

James McAvoy stars as Simon, an employee at a fine art auction house, similar to Sotheby’s. Simon begins the film by narrating and demonstrating the security measures, and soon enough a real robbery is occurring … a rare and valuable Goya. In the process Simon gets whacked on the head by master thief Franck (Vincent Cassel). We soon enough trance2learn Simon was part of the inside job but, thanks to head trauma, can’t recall where he hid the painting. Franck is not happy about this and Franck is not really a nice man.

Next thing we know, Simon is visiting hypno-therapist Elizabeth Lamb (Rosario Dawson) and trying to find his keys, which is really the painting. All the while this is happening, Franck and the crew are listening in and we viewers are being thumped with the techno-music (also known as Trance).  There are numerous “clues” and much mis-direction, so it helps to pay close attention. I would recommend paying special attention to the “Young Woman in the trance3Red Car”.  She is played by Tuppence Middleton, who is a real up-and-comer as an actress … she has quite a few upcoming films over the next 12-15 months.

This one is part heist film, part thriller, part atmospheric softcore sex, double-crossing, relationship flick. Normally a psychological thriller with Vincent Cassel directed by Danny Boyle would be a perfect time in a movie theatre for me. Unfortunately, in the twisty fun versus jumbled mess debate, I lean towards the messy side.

watch the trailer:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rvTW1JecmZo


A DANGEROUS METHOD

December 26, 2011

 Greetings again from the darkness. This film and story is yet more confirmation for my life-long belief that, in general, psychiatrists and psychologists tend to be the most unstable and consistently loony people in society. Whether in the medical profession, business world or scientific realm, over-blown ego affects judgment and clarity; and sometimes leads to the mis-guided notion that proving one’s theory is more vital than finding real truth.

Sigmund Freud (Viggo Mortensen) and Carl Jung (Michael Fassbender) are considered the founding fathers of what we accept today as psychoanalysis. In this film, we see how the two men came to know each other and the subsequent prideful battle of egos that drove them apart. Just as importantly, we see how Sabina Spielrein (Keira Knightley) evolved from clinical hysteria sufferer in 1904 (as the film opens), to Jung’s patient, to Jung’s lover, and finally to the level of respected colleague of Freud and Jung within the field. Her growth and change as a patient provided clinical proof to “the talking cure” method, which took the place of electro-shock therapy (except in extreme cases).

 The film is directed by David Cronenberg, although you might not believe it if you didn’t know it to be so. Mr. Cronenberg is known for such work as The Fly, Eastern Promises and A History of Violence. This is easiest his most dialogue-intensive work to date. Of course, that makes sense given that it’s based on Christopher Hampton‘s play “The Talking Cure” and John Kerr‘s book “A Most Dangerous Method”. The two main subjects love to hear their own words, though here Freud spends much of his screen time puffing a cigar and tossing in a few well-timed grunts. This goes to his belief that silence often leads others to conclude that his theories are so solid, debate becomes unnecessary.

 It is very interesting to see the personality differences between the subdued Freud and the more open-minded Jung. When mystical and supernatural subjects are brought up by Jung, Freud quickly dismisses them as hooey. Freud was almost a master marketer is his attempts to get psychoanalysis accepted into mainstream. He fought Jung’s more exploratory ideas. At the heart of the film is the evolution of Sabina and it’s impact on the three leads. There is also a bit of Otto Gross (Vincent Cassel) thrown in to show just how open and vulnerable Jung could be.

Learning about these pioneers is crucial to understanding the topic of today’s psychiatry and psychology. There is no question that the foundation of their work led to the salvation of many suffering people over the years. Of course, it’s clear that many patients have also suffered at the hands of those in the field who are less scrupulous.

The look of the film is beautiful, as are the costumes and sets. An added bonus is the terrific score from Howard Shore. It’s difficult to see this one attracting a wide audience, but the performances and subject matter should please those who are drawn to it.

SEE THIS MOVIE IF: you fancy yourself an amateur psychiatist OR you would like a primer in the beginnings of psychoanalysis

SKIP THIS MOVIE IF: you aren’t up for frequent tie-ins to sex … after all, it is Freud!

watch the trailer: