Showing posts with label Salt Lake Film Society. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Salt Lake Film Society. Show all posts

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

The Exception

As a student of history I hadn't really thought much about what happened to Kaiser Wilhelm II when he exited the stage after World War I.  After seeing a preview of The Exception, I was intrigued about his post-war life and very eager to see a film about his involvement, albeit fictionalized, in events at the beginning of World War II.  I am a sucker for films about World War I and World War II!  I saw The Exception last night and I wish that it had focused more on Wilhelm (Christopher Plummer) rather than on the romance between a German officer (Jai Courtney) and a Jewish housemaid who may or may not be a British operative (Lily James).  Captain Stefan Brandt (Courtney) is sent to the Netherlands, presumably as punishment for an incident in Poland (there are lots of flashbacks), to be the head of security for the exiled Wilhelm.  In reality, he is sent there to spy on Wilhelm.  He immediately, if abruptly, begins a passionate affair with the new maid Mieke (James), who reveals to him that she is Jewish.  When Heinrich Himmler (Eddie Marsan) visits Wilhelm, who hopes for news that the Nazis want to restore the monarchy, Brandt suspects that Mieke might be a spy.  Will he choose love or duty?  I loved Christopher Plummer in this role as a mercurial king-in-exile who longs for the past (he loves showing guests his collection of military uniforms) yet rails against his generals Hindenburg and Ludendorff for losing the war.  He insists on receiving military briefings from his aide de camp (Ben Daniels) in one moment and in the next he chops wood and feeds the ducks.  I also enjoyed Janet McTier's performance as Wilhelm's wife, Hermine, who works behind the scenes to restore the monarchy so she can order new clothes and refuse her sisters entrance at court.  Their story is incredibly compelling;  Brandt and Mieke's is less so.  Lily James does a good job in the scenes where espionage is the focus but I didn't buy the romance at all.  Why on earth does she get involved with a German soldier when she wants revenge against them for killing her father and brother?  Why does she tell him that she is Jewish when she doesn't know him well enough to trust him?  There is no motivation for their affair at all (beyond lust) and I didn't really care for Courtney's stilted performance as Brandt.  There is no tension at the climax because we already know that Brandt is troubled by the brutality of the Nazis so his decision isn't that surprising.  I found Wilhelm's decision to be much more interesting.  Bottom line:  I liked this movie but it would have been better with more Plummer and less Courtney.

Monday, July 10, 2017

The Hero

Last night I went to see The Hero, a film I saw at Sundance and really enjoyed.  To be sure, it is a cliched character study about a man with regrets who must come to term with his own mortality but it has an incredible central performance by Sam Elliott which makes it worth watching, even twice.  Lee Hayden (Elliott) is a former Western film star well past his prime who who spends his days drinking, smoking marijuana, and recording ads for a barbecue sauce when he is diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.  At the same time he meets a much younger woman (Laura Prepon) and begins a relationship with her and, after a drug-fueled speech at an awards ceremony goes viral, gets a big movie offer.  In the midst of all of this, he tries to reconcile with his estranged daughter (Krysten Ritter) and decide what to do about his diagnosis.  He has recurring dreams about being on the set of his most popular movie, in his current state, where he metaphorically fights his cancer.  Even though Elliott is essentially playing a version of himself, he is absolutely shines in this role (I have heard mention of a possible Academy Award nomination).  He is in almost every shot and I found him to be captivating.  He is able to convey more emotion with just a lift of a bushy eyebrow than most actors working today do with pages of dialogue.  While all of the supporting characters are pretty thinly drawn I found a scene with Nick Offerman, who plays a former cast member who is now Lee's drug dealer, to be hilarious and I enjoyed seeing Katharine Ross, Elliott's real-life wife, as Lee's ex-wife.   This film is a little gem that I recommend, especially if you are a fan of Sam Elliott.

Sunday, July 9, 2017

The Big Sick

I'm just going to put something out there.  I am not a big fan of romantic comedies (and I despise it when people refer to them as rom-coms).  I rarely see them and I am almost always underwhelmed by the ones I do see.  Boy meets girl, boy loses girl, and boy gets girl back.  Blah, blah, blah.  However, I decided to see The Big Sick on Friday night because it generated a lot of buzz at Sundance this year (and receieved one of the biggest distribution deals from the festival) and I saw a preview last week which made me laugh out loud.  It is a true story which adds a bit of a twist to the standard formula: boy meets girl, boy loses girl, girl is put into a coma, and boy gets girl back.  Kumail (Kumail Nanjiani playing a fictionalized version of himself) is a Pakistani comic who gets heckled one night by a graduate student named Emily (Zoe Kazan).  They immediately hit it off but eventually break up because Kumail's traditional parents want an arranged marriage for him.  Emily ends up in the emergency room one night and a friend asks Kumail to check up on her.  Her condition worsens so it is decided that she should be put in a medically induced coma and Kumail must inform her parents, Beth and Terry (Holly Hunter and Ray Romano).  As the days go by, he bonds with her parents and realizes how much he loves Emily.  It is so funny!  I laughed out loud through the whole thing!  I almost couldn't breathe in the scene where Terry and Kumail talk about 9/11 because I was laughing so hard.  All of the scenes with Kumail's potential brides, who just happen to drop by, are also hilarious ("The truth is out there!")  There are also some very heartwarming scenes, especially when Kumail tells his parents that they can't kick him out of the family.  Kumail is so endearing and both he and Kazan have great chemistry.  Both Hunter and Romano are also great together and Kumail's fellow comics (Bo Burnham, Aidy Bryant, and Kurt Braunohler) are a lot of fun.  I should mention that there is quite a bit of profanity but I absolutely loved this hilarious movie and I highly recommend it.

Note:  I saw this at the Broadway Theater and there was not an empty seat in sight.  That has only happened for two other movies that I've seen there:  The Grand Budapest Hotel and La La Land.

Monday, June 19, 2017

A Hard Day's Night

I think most of you know by now that I absolutely love the Beatles and I have seen A Hard Day's Night more times than I can count.  However, I have never seen it on the big screen (how I wish that I had been alive in 1964 to see this when it first premiered) until it was screened as part of Salt Lake Film Society's classic musicals series last Tuesday.  To say that I was excited to see it on the big screen would be an understatement and I definitely sang along (I was not alone but I was the youngest person in the audience).  This movie stars the Beatles and it is basically an extended music video featuring their songs with the thinnest of narratives tying them together (they are traveling from Liverpool to London to tape an appearance on a TV show).  But it matters not because it is the Beatles.  The Beatles!  I found it to be quite amusing because it features the witty banter the lads are known for ("Are you a mod or a rocker?" "I'm a mocker.") and there is a running gag with Paul's grandfather getting into trouble and the lads escaping from their managers.  I also thought the cinematography was quite innovative with lots of different angles.  But, of course, what makes this film so much fun is the music including the title track, "I Should Have Known Better," "I Wanna Be Your Man," "All My Loving," "If I Fell," "Can't Buy Me Love," "And I Love Her," "Tell Me Why," and "She Loves You."  I just loved every minute and it is a must see if you are a fan of the Beatles.  Go here for a full schedule of films being screened as part of this series.

Sunday, June 18, 2017

The Umbrellas of Cherbourg

I am so enjoying the classic musical series being screened by the Salt Lake Film Society this summer.  The Umbrellas of Cherbourg is a film that I have wanted to see for quite a while because I read that Damien Chazelle used it for inspiration for La La Land.  I was able to see it on Tuesday and I absolutely loved it.  The whole movie is sung, much like an opera, and all of the music was vaguely familiar to me (even though the lyrics are in French).  Genevieve (Catherine Deneuve), a 17-year-old girl who works in an umbrella shop in Cherbourg, is in love with Guy (Nico Castelnuovo), a young man who works in a garage.  Her mother (Anne Vernon) disapproves of the romance but they want to get married.  When Guy is conscripted into the army to fight in Algeria, Genevieve is heartbroken but vows to wait for him.  She soon discovers that she is pregnant and, when Guy's letters become less frequent, her mother urges her to marry a wealthy businessman (Marc Michel) which she eventually does.  It turns out that Guy was wounded and when he returns to Cherbourg, he marries someone else and fulfills his dream of opening his own garage.  At the end of the film, Genevieve returns to Cherbourg and she and Guy share a heartbreaking reunion.  I actually liked this film more than La La Land because both Deneuve and Castelnuovo are amazing singers (much better than both Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone) and they drew me into their doomed romance with the intensity of their performances.  It was intriguing to see a young Catherine Deneuve, who is such an icon, in one of her first movies.  This movie is beautiful, but so sad, and I absolutely loved it.  I definitely recommend it, especially if you are a fan of La La Land.  Go here for a full schedule of movies in this series.

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Fiddler on the Roof

I love Fiddler on the Roof.  I have seen it performed on the stage countless times and I even played Fruma Sarah in a production.  But, for me, the definitive version is the 1971 film.  I even judge every Tevye that I see on stage by Topol's performance in the film.  I was absolutely thrilled when I found out that it was being screened as one of Salt Lake Film Society's classic musicals and I was able to see it on the big screen Monday night.  It tells the well known story of a poor Jewish milkman named Tevye trying to hold onto his traditions in pre-revolutionary Russia.  All of the songs are so familiar and I may or may not have sung along with the actors, especially during "Tevye's Dream."  What I love about the film, as opposed to the stage musical, is the scale.  I really love the big sweeping shots of the vast landscape and I love all of the big production numbers with hundreds of extras.  I especially enjoyed "Tradition" with so many papas, mamas, sons, and daughters, the fun choreography in "To Life," and the wedding scene when all of the townspeople walk to the canopy with candles.  Topol gives such an iconic performance as Tevye and I laughed out loud during his rendition of "If I Was A Rich Man."  I was filled with so much nostalgia watching this film because I remember watching it at my Grandma's house.  It was such a fun crowd at the Broadway and I was definitely not the only one singing out loud.  Go here for a full schedule of films being screened as part of this series.

Monday, June 12, 2017

My Cousin Rachel

Saturday night I met my friend Rachel to see My Cousin Rachel, the latest film adaptation of Daphne du Maurier's novel of the same name.  It is a psychological thriller which centers on Philip Ashley (Sam Claflin), an orphan who has been raised by his cousin Ambrose on a large estate in Cornwall.  After Ambrose dies mysteriously in Italy, his widow Rachel (Rachel Weisz) comes to visit the estate.  Philip blames Rachel for Ambrose's death because of some cryptic letters that Ambrose sent accusing Rachel of poisoning him but he eventually becomes completely infatuated with her.  Philip is impetuous and inexplicably gives away the estate to Rachel despite his earlier suspicions and the warnings of everyone around him.  Meanwhile, the special herbal tea that Rachel brews for Philip makes him tired and it seems obvious that she is poisoning him like she did Ambrose.  But did she poison Ambrose?  Is she poisoning Philip?  The audience is never entirely sure of Rachel's motivations which makes the film compelling right up to the ambiguous ending.  I was often infuriated by Philip as a character but Claflin does a good enough job at portraying his immaturity and naivete. Weisz, on the other hand, gives an absolutely brilliant performance as the enigmatic Rachel because she gives nothing away and always kept me guessing.  I love period dramas, especially ones based on Gothic novels, and this film definitely gets it right when it comes to mood.  The cinematography, production design, and costumes are beautiful!  I loved the sweeping shots of the Cornish coastline as well as the candle-lit scenes between Philip and Rachel.  This film is definitely not as intense or suspenseful as Rebecca, one of my favorite movies based on another du Maurier novel, but I really liked it and I recommend it.

Monday, June 5, 2017

Gentlemen Prefer Blondes

The Salt Lake Film Society is screening 18 classic movie musicals during the month of June.  I am really excited about this series because I so enjoy seeing classic films on the big screen as they were meant to be seen.  I won't be able to see them all (go here for the complete lineup if you are local) but I will try to see as many as possible.  Friday night I went to see Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, which I had never seen before, and I had so much fun!  Lorelei Lee (Marilyn Monroe) and Dorothy Shaw (Jane Russell) are two glamorous showgirls crossing the Atlantic for a trip to Paris.  On the crossing they get distracted, Lorelei by a rich owner of a diamond mine who may or may not have given her his wife's valuable diamond tiara, and Dorothy by the entire Men's Olympic Team.  Things get interesting when the suspicious father of Lorelei's millionaire fiance sends a private investigator, Ernie Malone (Elliott Reid), to spy on her and, instead, he falls in love with Dorothy.  There are some fun musical numbers, including the iconic "Diamonds Are A Girl's Best Friend," and quite a bit of physical comedy.  I especially liked the scene where the girls get Ernie drunk and take his clothes off to locate an incriminating roll of film and the scene where Lorelei gets stuck in a porthole.  The dialogue is sophisticated and just a bit racy and both Monroe and Russell give thoroughly charming performances in fabulous and glamorous costumes.  Like Elizabeth Taylor, I think that the myth of Marilyn Monroe has come to overshadow the fact that she was actually a pretty good actress.  I was pleasantly surprised by her performance.  It was a thoroughly entertaining movie, like they don't make any more, and I am looking forward to seeing more films in this series.

Thursday, June 1, 2017

My Entire High School Sinking Into The Sea

Last night I met my movie friends for dinner and a movie and it was such a fun night.  We saw My Entire High School Sinking Into The Sea, a quirky movie that all three of us really liked.  Dash (Jason Schwartzman) is a nerdy high school sophomore who writes for the school newspaper with his best friend Assaf (Reggie Watts) and Verti (Maya Rudolph), the editor.  He decides to write a story about the new addition of an auditorium and finds evidence that the school did not pass a safety inspection because it is located directly on a fault line.  No one listens to his warning but when the school actually begins to sink, he tries to evacuate everyone.  Only Assaf, Verti, a popular girl named Mary (Lena Dunham), and the lunch lady Lorraine (Susan Sarandon) join him in climbing to the top floor to be rescued.  As they climb each floor, which amusingly correspond to each grade level, they encounter new obstacles to their survival.  There is a great message about unlikely friendships and teamwork but what I loved most about this movie is that it is a spoof of the usual teen high school movie, with the requisite stereotypical characters such as the stoner and the jock (I loved the scene where the sports hero is sitting on a throne with the other athletes and cheerleaders paying homage to him), combined with a disaster movie with all of those usual tropes (my friend described it as if Napoleon Dynamite and The Poseidon Adventure had a baby).  The animation is innovative and psychedelic.  The characters look like they have been drawn with a sharpie but there are lots of wild and trippy colors swirling around everywhere.  This movie is what might happen if Wes Anderson were to drop acid and get his 64 pack of Crayola crayons out (Dash reminds me of Max Fischer and the school is an almost exact copy of the Grand Budapest Hotel).  It is out there but I highly recommend it!

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

The Lovers

Yesterday was the first official day of summer vacation and I spent it doing all of the things I love to do when I have free time:  I slept in scandalously late, I spent most of the afternoon reading, and I went to a late movie.  The movie I chose to see was an indie at my favorite art house theater called The Lovers.  It was an interesting exploration of marriage anchored by great performances by Debra Winger and Tracy Letts.  Mary (Winger) and Michael (Letts) are a middle-aged couple whose marriage has become stale.  They are both involved in long-term affairs, Mary with an uptight poet (Aidan Gillen) and Michael with a neurotic ballerina (Melora Walters), and both of their lovers are pushing them to end the marriage to be with them.  Just when they are on the verge of divorce, they suddenly become physically attracted to each other all over again and, ostensibly, cheat on their lovers.  They actually sneak around to be with each other and lie to their lovers about what they are doing in some highly amusing scenes.  I especially liked a scene when they are with their lovers but surreptitiously texting each other.  I really enjoyed this movie because it explored familiar themes about the break-up of a marriage in a new and interesting way and the ending surprised me.  Neither character is particularly likable but, somehow, I was drawn into their relationship without a lot of tedious exposition.  I haven't seen Debra Winger in a movie for a long time and it was good to see her in such a great role.  Both WInger and Letts have great chemistry (in some pretty steamy scenes) and I laughed out loud several times.  I recommend The Lovers to people who like intelligent movies about relationships.

Note:  I hope to repeat this day often this summer!

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Norman

On Monday night I went to see the dark comedy Norman: The Moderate Rise and Tragic Fall of a New York Fixer.  Richard Gere gives an incredible performance (possibly the best of his career) as Norman Oppenheimer, a small-time hustler in New York City who does an enormous favor for Micha Eschel (Lior Ashkenazi), a low-level diplomat in the Israeli government, in order to get an invitation to a dinner thrown by Arthur Taub (Josh Charles), a high profile financier (the exchange between Norman and Taub is one of the most cringe-worthy scenes I've ever seen).  Norman's prospects change when, three years later, Eschel becomes the Prime Minister of Israel.  He does a few more favors for Eschel, such as getting his son into Harvard, and then attempts to use this connection to his advantage.  Will he pull off the biggest deals of his life or will it all come crashing down around him?   I enjoyed this often slow-moving film because of Richard Gere's sympathetic portrayal of a character who is pretty annoying, especially when he tries to hustle a woman on a train, but somehow you can't help rooting for him to succeed.  There is an especially poignant scene where Eschel essentially throws him under the bus to save his political career and it almost brought me to tears.  I liked how many of the phone conversations are portrayed as if the two people talking are side-by-side (there are many phone conversations because Norman is always hustling).  Finally, I also really liked the supporting cast:  Michael Sheen as Norman's much beleaguered nephew, Dan Stevens (who seems to be everywhere these days) as a financier, and Steve Buscemi as a rabbi.  This film is quite dark in tone so is not for everybody but I recommend it to those who like character-driven films about interesting people.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

The Dinner

Another film on my never-ending list is The Dinner and I was able to cross it off last night.  Paul (Steve Coogan), a former history teacher with a history of mental illness, his long-suffering wife Claire (Laura Linney), his brother Stan (Richard Gere), a successful congressman currently running for governor, and Stan's second wife Katelyn (Rebecca Hall) meet each other at an exclusive and unbelievably pretentious restaurant to talk about a family crisis involving their teenage sons.  The dinner is fraught with tension and as each course is elaborately served (and labeled with on-screen titles), a layer is removed revealing their incredibly dysfunctional family dynamic and we learn that their boys have committed a horrific crime and that each of them have differing opinions about how to deal with the situation.  Much of the film involves the characters hashing it out at the dinner table and in various locations within the restaurant but there are also quite a few flashbacks which, for the most part, effectively illustrate how the relationships have become so combative (Chloe Sevigny appears in flashbacks at Stan's first wife).  One of them, however, involving a visit by the two brothers to Gettysburg seemed to go on and on, belaboring the point that a house divided against itself cannot stand.  All of these characters are pretty unlikable, even the one character who advocates that they do the right thing ultimately wavers, but all four actors give incredibly nuanced performances (I was especially impressed by Hall).  The Dinner is not an easy film to watch (at one point I had to turn away while one person in my screening left at that same moment) and the ambiguous ending left me a bit unsettled but, since I haven't been able to stop thinking about it, I highly recommend it as a thought-provoking morality play.

Monday, May 8, 2017

Their Finest

Yesterday I spent the afternoon watching the charming and delightful film, Their Finest.  I saw this at the Sundance Film Festival this year and I enjoyed it so much I wanted to see it again in wide release.   In 1940 the Ministry of Information, Film Division, is trying to boost morale at home and convince America to enter the war during the London Blitz.  They hear of an inspiring story about two young girls who took their father's boat to rescue soldiers stranded at Dunkirk and decide to make a film about their heroism.  An advertising copywriter named Catrin Cole (Gemma Arterton) is hired to write the "slop," or women's perspective, in the screenplay.  At first the other screenwriters Tom Buckley (Sam Claflin) and Raymond Parfitt (Paul Ritter) are resentful of her involvement but they come to rely on her more and more and, of course, Catrin and Tom eventually develop feelings for each other.  There are some really somber scenes as almost every character deals with the effects of the nightly bombing during the Blitz (I don't know how people lived through the terror and uncertainty of the Blitz) but there are also some hilarious scenes when they begin filming on location, especially with the pompous actor Ambrose Hilliard (Bill Nighy).  I have always been a big fan of Nighy but here he is at his most overwrought best.  He pretty much steals every scene he is in.  Both Arterton and Claflin give solid performances and I was very engaged with their romance, even upon a second viewing.  I recommend this film as a pleasant afternoon diversion.

Sunday, May 7, 2017

A Quiet Passion

Last night I went to see A Quiet Passion, an exquisite biopic about the life and work of Emily Dickinson.  We meet Emily as a young girl (played by Emma Bell) rebelling against the strict confines of her school, Mt. Holyoke Female Seminary.  Then she (played hereafter by Cynthia Nixon) returns to her home and family in Amherst, Massachusetts where she lives quietly and channels her overwhelming emotions into her poetry.  The story is told through a series of vignettes, mostly consisting of conversations with her stern father (Keith Carradine), her melancholy mother (Joanna Bacon), her brother Austin (Duncan Duff), her beloved sister Lavinia (Jennifer Ehle), her unconventional friend Vryling Buffum (Catherine Bailey), and her long-suffering sister-in-law Susan (Jodhi May), and a voice-over of Nixon reading Dickinson's poetry.  Because her life was so circumscribed, director Terence Davies imbues every single scene, even the most mundane shot of Emily sitting at her desk, with importance through beautiful composition and lighting.  My favorite moment in the whole film is a 360 degree shot which begins with Emily silently reading then circles the room showing members of her family spending a quiet evening in the drawing room and then returns to Emily in despair.  Nothing much is happening but it is beautifully shot and shows so much emotion.  Most of the film can be described in this way but it is incredibly moving and engrossing because of Nixon's astonishing performance.  She is able to convey all of Dickinson's innermost feelings with just an expression.  I loved this film because I am a fan of Emily Dickinson's poetry and I love character-driven biographies about complicated people but it is definitely not for everyone.

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Cezanne et Moi

There are quite a few movies currently at the Broadway that I want to see and one of them, Cezanne at Moi, has a very limited engagement so I thought I had better see it last night.  This film is a luminous biopic about the turbulent friendship between Emile Zola (Guillaume Canet) and Paul Cezanne (Guillaume Gallienne) and I loved it.  The narrative begins when the two men are in middle age.  Zola is a successful author who has become one of the bourgeoisie he was so disdainful of as a young and penniless poet while Cezanne is still a fiery rebel estranged from his wealthy family who has yet to experience the success that would come to him at the end of his life.  There are flashbacks to their childhood in Aix en Provence, their days as struggling artists in Paris, and the rift in their friendship as Zola achieves more and more success and Cezanne becomes increasingly erratic.  The film reaches its climax in a scene fraught with tension as they hurl accusations at each other, each desiring what the other has.  This film is beautiful, almost as if you are watching one of Cezanne's paintings coming to life on the screen, and both Canet and Gallienne give incredibly powerful performances.  However, it is most definitely character, rather than plot, driven and the flashbacks are very nonlinear.  Also, there are lots of obscure references to art and literature that not everyone will be able to appreciate and I should mention that this film is in French with English subtitles.  It is definitely not for everyone but if you enjoy period pieces about interesting and complicated people, I highly recommend Cezanne at Moi.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Colossal

When Colossal was screened at the Sundance Film Festival this year I honestly didn't have any desire to see it.  A couple of things changed my mind.  First, I saw a preview last week which was very intriguing and, then, a few friends who saw at Sundance raved about it in advance of its wide release so I decided to take in a matinee yesterday.  Gloria (Anne Hathaway) is a young woman living in New York and, frankly, she is a complete mess.  She has been unemployed for over a year and, after staggering home from a night of drinking, her boyfriend kicks her out of their apartment.  She is forced to move back into her childhood home, where she literally sleeps on an air mattress on the floor, and she reconnects with Oscar (Jason Sudeikis), a childhood friend.  She continues her destructive behavior by drinking every night with Oscar and his friends.  Clearly, she has a few inner demons but her demons manifest themselves as a giant lizard-like monster who terrorizes the people of Seoul, South Korea.  She is horrified when she realizes that she is responsible for the death of many innocent people and tries to discover a way to stop the monster.  As the story continues, Oscar's demons, which manifest themselves as a giant robot, are revealed and the two of them must resolve a conflict from childhood in an epic showdown.  I found this story to be highly original and entertaining, if a bit strange, and the ending was incredibly satisfying.  I usually like Anne Hathaway and I found her portrayal of Gloria to be sympathetic.  Conversely, I found Jason Sudeikis' Oscar to be quite disturbing; in fact, there were moments when I truly despised him.  Amid the bad behavior and the B-movie monsters, there is a really powerful message about bullying and I'm glad that I decided to see it.

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Frantz

Last night I saw the absolutely beautiful film Frantz at the Broadway.  It is one of the best films about the aftermath of war that I've ever seen.  After World War I, a young German woman named Anna (Paula Beer) is mourning the loss of her fiancee Frantz (played by Anton Von Lucke in flashbacks).  She frequently visits his grave and one day she notices that flowers have been left by a stranger who turns out to be Adrien (Pierre Niney), a Frenchman who claims to have known Frantz before the war.  He and Anna form a close bond as he tells her about their friendship and, while his presence is initially met with resistance by Frantz's family, he eventually brings them comfort.  When Adrien leaves Germany, after a startling revelation, Anna cannot get him out of her mind and travels to France in the hopes of reestablishing their connection (where she faces the same hostility that Adrien experienced in Germany).  After another revelation, Anna must learn to let go of the past and live a different life from the one she had imagined.  Based on the 1932 Ernst Lubitsch film Broken Lullaby, it explores the lingering pain and loss after a war, the antagonism remaining in peacetime between two countries who were once enemies, and the need for forgiveness for deeds committed in wartime.  It is quite atmospheric and very moving.  Most of the film is in black and white, with brief interludes of color during scenes before the war and during moments of happiness, which is highly effective in conveying a mood, and both Beer and Niney give absolutely haunting performances.  I loved this film and I highly recommend it.

Note:  Frantz was the second independent foreign film with subtitles that I saw this week (third if you count this film because I saw again with English subtitles, which I much preferred to the dubbed version).  I am nothing if not pretentious!

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Land of Mine

Last night I went to see the film Land of Mine at the Broadway, my favorite art house theater.  Doesn't everyone spend their Friday nights watching independent foreign films with subtitles?  In the immediate aftermath of World War II, Sergeant Carl Leopold Rasmussen (Roland Moller) is given command of a group of German POWs who are tasked with removing hundreds of thousands of land mines on the western coast of Denmark.  We are not given Rasmussen's backstory but he has clearly been shattered by the events of the war and torments the POWs, most of whom are young boys conscripted at the end of the war, as a way of exacting revenge against Germany.  Their living conditions are deplorable and their job of locating and then defusing the bombs is dangerous, to say the least.  As we get to know and care about these boys, we are never allowed to forget the ever-present possibility that they could be killed by an explosion at any moment.  As a result, many of the scenes of them on the beach are fraught with tension, and occasionally horror.  At the crux of the story is Rasmussen's journey from hatred to compassion as he gets to know them as individuals rather than as the enemy and this is incredibly powerful.  There is a touching scene where one of the boys clears a path to rescue a Danish girl who has wandered on to the beach and I also loved the scene where Rasmussen plays soccer with the boys on part of the beach that has been cleared.  The cinematography is exceptional with widescreen shots of the endless beach which serve to show how daunting the task of removing all of the mines truly is.  I found this film to be both beautiful and terrible (the explosions are unbelievably difficult to watch) and I thought it was an interesting deviation from the standard war movie where heroes and villains are clearly defined.  I highly recommend it.

Note:  After watching this film, I spontaneously decided to see Personal Shopper again.  I simply cannot stop thinking about it.

Friday, April 7, 2017

Personal Shopper

I really enjoyed The Clouds of Sils Maria so I have been looking forward to Personal Shopper, the latest collaboration between Olivier Assayas and Kristen Stewart.  I saw it last night and my mind was blown.  Maureen (Stewart) has moved to Paris to visit the house where her twin brother died of the same congenital heart condition that she has  The two of them made a vow that whoever died first would return to give the other a sign that there is an afterlife.  As she waits for this sign, she works as a personal shopper for a celebrity, borrowing couture clothing and designer jewelry for her client to be photographed in.  Maureen is haunted by a spirit in her brother's house (in some of the scariest scenes I've ever seen) and is harassed by an unknown stalker who sends her menacing texts.  The film begins as a typical ghost story, then becomes a murder mystery, and ends as a psychological study of a young woman in an existential crisis.  It is a brilliant juxtaposition of the spiritual and the material.  It is incredibly suspenseful and part of that is due to the fact that I never knew what would happen from one moment to the next.  The atmospheric score only added to my unease.  Stewart gives the best performance of her career, in my opinion, and she is simply riveting.  It is definitely the best performance I've seen this year.  The scenes on the Eurostar where she receives a string of texts are intense, to say the least, and the final scene raised the hairs on the back of my neck.  I know that this film won't appeal to many moviegoers, especially those who don't like ambiguous endings, but I found it to be fascinating and I'm sure that I will be thinking about for many days to come.

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

T2 Trainspotting

Twenty years ago, in the cult classic movie Trainspotting (which I absolutely loved), Mark Renton (Ewan McGregor) betrayed his three best friends and took the £16,000 that the four of them had stolen all for himself to start a new life.  In the voice-over he told the audience that he was a bad person but that was going to change.  Have you ever wondered if things really did change for him?  I liked Mark Renton as a character but I hoped, rather than believed, that he would overcome his heroin addiction and make something of himself.  I felt the same way when I went to see the sequel, T2 Trainspotting, last night.  I hoped, rather than believed, that it would be a good movie.  Although Renton is going through a divorce and the company he works for is downsizing, he has been clean for the past twenty years so he is doing much better than I expected.  He returns to Edinburgh after the death of his mother and is reunited with Sick Boy (Jonny Lee Miller), who is now running his aunt's pub while engaging in a blackmail scheme with his Bulgarian girlfriend (Anjela Nedyalkova), Spud (Ewen Bremner), who is still addicted to heroin and estranged from Gail (Shirley Henderson) and his son Fergus, and Begbie (Robert Carlyle), who has recently escaped from prison.  The three of them are still bitter about Renton's betrayal and their interactions are highly amusing.  Like the first movie, there is an opportunity and a betrayal but there is also a twist so the story feels fresh but there are many nostalgic nods to the original for hard-core fans, including a new "Choose Life" speech, this time railing against social media rather than consumerism, a scene with a toilet (thankfully not as gross as the first movie), and a cameo by Kelly Macdonald, Renton's underage girlfriend who is now a lawyer.  The first movie explored the existential angst of young men who didn't see a future for themselves while this one centers on the cynicism of middle-aged men who now long for the past.  Once again Danny Boyle employs fast cuts, freeze frames, text on the screen, and pulse pounding music underneath the action and, while this seemed groundbreaking and mind-blowing in the first film, it seems a little tired in this one.  However, this movie, much like the fate of Renton, is a lot better than I expected!
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