LOST IN PARIS

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France
Director: Dominic Abel and Fiona Gordon
Runtime: 82 minutes
Language: French, English

If it were any more lightweight Lost in Paris would probably just float away like the balloons in Up. The husband and wife team of Dominic Abel and Fiona Gordon have created this completely unexpected surprise, a wispy little trip to escapism.  This is the type of filmmaking that no one makes anymore because it’s been considered either out of fashion or just a bit too outre for the type of audiences who go see comedies, even French ones. It feels completely fresh and yet outside of its own time, an oddity that somehow works solely due to the rubbery physiques of Gordon and Abel who push their bodies to the very limit with stunts in the same vein as Harold Lloyd, circa Safety Last!, The Marx Brothers, Lucille Ball, Carol Burnett, and even very early Looney Tunes.

Bespectacled Fiona works in the Canadian mountains as a librarian and longs to see Paris. Fortunately, a letter sent to her by her elderly aunt Marthe (Emmanuelle Riva) sends Fiona off to Paris for a visit. Seems simple, right? Not really. Getting there becomes the longest path from point A to B as Fiona, on arriving to Paris, suffers pratfall after pratfall, finds her aunt missing, and having nowhere to go, sets off to find Marthe with a love-struck vagabond trailing (Dominic Abel) trailing after her. Ethereal as it is, Lost in Paris gets grounded by Gordon and Abel who make a great sparring, comedic couple. Watching Riva clearly have a ball and even hoofing it a bit in a park scene with veteran actor Pierre Richard is a delight,and made me think — considering Riva has two more films as-yet unreleased — this may be the final time I would see her on film, in this gentle, sweet comedy.

MAUDIE

MAUDIE
Ireland / Canada
Director: Aislinn Walsh
Runtime: 114 minutes
Language: English

If there was an award for the most subtle show of inner strength and passive aggressive behavior put to a positive use it would have to be Sally Hawkins’ portrayal of Maud Lewis, the Canadian folk artist who came to some level of prominence during her lifetime and now is regarded as a national treasure. Hawkins benefits from a peripheral physical resemblance to the artist, but it’s the way she carries out the character where she shines. If you don’t know of Lewis’ history it won’t matter — Hawkins makes it come alive for you to see and does so with a delicacy of flower revealing itself slowly but surely. At the start of the movie proper, the prospects aren’t good and the cards seem stacked against Maud (who was born arthritic and has limited mobility) — her brother has sold her childhood home, leaving her behind with her aunt Ida (Gabrielle Rose), a woman who seems to want even less to do with her than her brother.

By chance, Maud encounters an ad placed in a hardware store by Everett Lewis (Ethan Hawke), a fish peddler needing a full-time housekeeper to tend his house while he is away. More needing a place to stay than qualifications, Maud answers the ad, but Everett expresses an instant hostility towards her. However, her subtlety and meekness win Everett over who allows her to remain in the place as long as she keeps it minimally in order and has food at the ready. Maud complies, and also brings an added touch . . . her innate sense of art, which she begins to display in small, timid spots around the small house, but then in more visible areas. A neighbor who also buys fish from Everett notices her work, buys a painting for five dollars, and spreads the word. Soon, Maud has become a curiosity for passers-by, and her work grows in stature, while just as she’s getting a certain sense of comfort as Everett’s wife, she past comes calling to reveal some secrets.

Maudie is an  ode to anyone who’s been treated badly either by illness or life itself. Here you have a woman who by definition would have been a forgotten failure living off the scraps left behind by society, and who through sheer guts and willpower wove her fabric into the world and left her own brand of beauty. Hawkins and Hawke fully complement each other — her surrender is really the strength that tames the beast-like character that Hawke plays — and her growth kick starts his own transformation into a loving man (not with some moments where wills clash and one awful scene of violence to make anyone cringe). I couldn’t find a single element that was wrong or missing in Aislinn Walsh’s film, and I felt that even as it ended, I would have wanted to see just a bit more of this immensely creative woman. [A]

Maudie has been playing since June 5th in NYC and can be seen at the Lincoln Plaza Cinemas.

2017 TRIBECA NASTIES ON DVD: TAKE ME & HOUNDS OF LOVE

Taylor Schilling (Orange is the New Black) gets tied up in Take Me.

THE BIG SICK
USA
Director: Pat Healy
Runtime: 85 minutes
Language: English

Mostlyindies Grading: C–

Bad movies exist in all shapes and sizes and have only one purpose: to make you wonder what went wrong that they deserve to be considered such. Maybe it was the direction that was too flat, or too uninviting; perhaps the acting was so bad it bordered on camp; there’s a laundry list of possible misfires that could have contributed to the failure of a movie to deliver and be remembered in a good way. Tribeca, a film festival that often showcases films by new and rising directors, sometimes takes the word ‘new’ and runs with it; for a festival that showcases nearly 100 films of all shapes, sizes, and genres during its two week run in April, it can have the luxury to show several turkeys and still get away with it (and make a neat profit).

Take Me, an incompetent comedy-thriller-character piece directed and acted by Pat Healy, an indie character actor whose most notable credit was being the creepy-as-fuck voice of the ‘cop’ in the Craig Zobel indie thriller Compliance from 2012, falls under that nebulous category of bad film that makes it to Tribeca because, film, right? To explain: somehow, the movie gets selected, bows at Tribeca, and lands in  VOD distribution (although it has a guaranteed slot at the midnight hour at IFC for a week or two). There, it thrives at a price of 6.99, a price much preferable than its 15 dollar tag in theaters, and people like me and you can watch without feeling cheated out of our hard-earned money and forget about it moments later. Not to digress about the film, but I guess it just shows that anyone with access to a camera can make a movie, but hey, what do I know. Let’s just say, this is one smelly turkey.

To keep it short, the premise is almost identical to the one Neil LaBute presented in his much superior Some Velvet Morning (a movie I highly recommend you watch on Prime for free if you haven’t; it’s that good). The crucial difference is that of subtlety. LaBute’s little film is a masterclass in restraint that threatens to explode between the two actors cohabiting a tense New York apartment and with dialog that melts from their viperous lips; Take Me offers no such gifts in dialog or performances and is basically blunt-force trauma masquerading as edgy cinema. From the word go we know what is happening; Healy runs an agency that pretends to kidnap people for a space of 8 hours as fetish — basically, an S & M company in which the person will be abducted, tortured, and released, all for a fee that Healy will collect. This time, however, he gets a call from a woman, Anna St Clair (Schilling) who wants to disappear for a weekend and is not afraid to get slapped around. She’s willing to pay him a plum sum upfront, mind you.

Healy takes the offer, and while the abduction sequence is still disturbing to see as it’s filmed dead on, and it’s followed by an interrogation sequence that while bizarre is still jarring, it never really makes us feel that this is something real (the movie has a lengthy prologue, and as if to nail it, another explanatory scene, with the intention of letting us know what we’re in for). Something starts to emerge in the fallout of the two actor’s encounter. It looks for a good while that Anna might not even know why she’s in the predicament and a news item seems to confirm that. Healy wonders if he’s in over his head, and tries to work things out with Anna, but Anna shifts from victim to temptress so quickly, and we never truly connect with Healy’s character, that it becomes impossible to watch except from a distance and look at the clock to see how much time there is left to this.

It is a shame because there are a couple of moments when Take Me adds little spark to its narrative: there is a side character, Healy’s sister (Alicia Delmore), who leaves a comic impression so strong that one would wish the movie had brought her in to complicate matters to a boiling degree. However, the two leads are so unsympathetic in every way that we just get to watch them go through the motions and attempt to out-guess where they’ll go next and what will the story turn into. A third act power reversal proves little cleverness in the plot procedures, and by the time the credits start rolling, I felt as though my time had been wasted by a story that didn’t quite pull it together. Take Me is not the movie you want to see if you like smart thrillers. For that, stick to The Game, or Some Velvet Morning.

HOUNDS OF LOVE
Australia
Director: Ben Young
Runtime: 108 minutes
Language: English

Mostlyindies grading: B+

Inspired, it seems, by the Moorhouse Murders, a series of crimes committed by David and Catherine Birnie who abducted, raped, tortured, and killed four women (their fifth was unsuccessful) in the 1980s, Hounds of Love is a gritty exploration of the darkest forms of love between two psychopaths addicted to their own perversions. The opening is a shocker for its combination of slow-motion images of girls playing volleyball in a Perth high school, while a couple, John and Evelyn White (Stephen Curry and Emma Booth) stalk them in a vehicle. Cut to a scene later in the middle of the afternoon as the couple approaches one of the girls as she walks home and offer her a ride. The girl accepts. We later see shots of her, dead, in the White’s home. It’s all done in one short chilling series of takes, effectively laying out how matter-of-fact something as horrifying as snuffing the life out of a person can me under the right circumstances.

And of course, once is never enough. We’ll never know how many murders the Whites may have committed but it’s clear that where there was one, there will be more. And, sure enough, shortly after we get introduced to Vicki (Ashleigh Cummings), a troubled teenager angry over the split between her parents Maggie and Trevor (Susie Porter and Damian de Montemas), we see her on her way to a party while staying with her mother and getting lured into the White’s vehicle. The abduction sequence is so brilliantly done, because it starts out as casual conversation between neighbors, evolves into an offer that plays onto Vicki’s own innocence, then lands her into the nightmare hell that is the White house as they, in one static shot, chain Vicki onto a bed while she kicks and screams for help.

Luckily, Ben Young, the director behind this explosive debut picture, isn’t content to turn this into another version of exploitation or abduction porn. Vickie may be young but she’s not naive and look for her interactions with Evelyn to unsettle her and perhaps by doing so, secure her own freedom. Look for how delicate certain scenes between Vicki and John are handled — yes, they are perverse, but then again, how can one approach what must be suburban hell where death is certain without venturing into queasy territory? Where the movie plays strongest is in focusing on Evelyn and John and their twisted dynamics: Evelyn, implied to be a willing victim who’s allowed herself to be a puppet for John’s deviant passions, rants and rages at the very thought that Vicki could be a possible replacement in a scene where John takes Vicki into a room but locks the doors, leaving Evelyn the third wheel. John meanwhile, continues to deliver promises to kill the girl . . . when in fact he has no intention of doing so.

Hounds of Love won’t be for everybody due to its subject matter, a topic that has become almost ubiquitous on Discovery ID (if you follow some of their shows about evil women or twisted couples). There is always danger to overdo the sexual violence against a younger person and on at least one occasion it gets almost too hard to watch. However, this is a strong, muscular debut picture that is much more restrained even in its more harrowing moments. It’s to its success that it also has a trio of actors committed not only to the ugliness of the situation at hand but at their psychological make-up, Add to that a slight twist that builds to a remarkably suspenseful crescendo and you have yourselves one damn good movie and a director to pay attention to.

Hounds of Love is available on VOD via Amazon Prime. Take Me is on Netflix On Demand.

THE BIG SICK

THE BIG SICK
USA
Director: Michael Showalter
Runtime: 120 minutes
Language: English, Urdu

Mostlyindies Grading: A+

If you’re in the mood for a romantic comedy unlike anything you’ve seen — one that offers sharp characterizations and respects its supporting characters and the audience that is shelving 15 dollars to go see it — then Michael Showalter’s The Big Sick is the movie for you, and the comedy of the summer. On surface and without knowing anything of its backstory, the premise of Emily Gordon’s and Kumail Nunjani’s screenplay would sound like a third-rate rom-com from the 90s with the added flavor of inter-racial relations, and would probably — no, most certainly — stick with pre-established stereotypes to induce some kind of satisfying resolution like My Big Fat Greek Wedding, or even (and I’m going back 30 years) Coming to America. However, their story — how they met, how they fell in love, and how human frailties and the need to get it right almost kept them apart for good — is so, so good, it almost begs to be expanded, and mind you, this is a movie that runs a minute over two hours.

Kumail Nunjani plays a version of himself, a struggling stand-up comedian living in Chicago who moonlights as a Uber driver. His parents — especially his mother — try unsuccessfully to hook him up to other Pakistani women because of a little thing called tradition to a culture’s norm of arranged marriages. Every woman he meets winds up leaving by herself and he for some reason keeps their picture in a cigar box, a thing that will come to haunt him later. During a comedy routine a girl heckles him. She turns out to be the very un-Pakistani Emily (Zoe Kazan, excellent), and what transpires is a case of meet-cute meets polar opposites. They just can’t keep apart from each other, and the more time they spend together, the stronger this bond between them is. All seems to be going well with the minor exception that Kumail won’t take Emily to meet his parents even though she’s been an open book to him.

And then . . . Emily finds the cigar box.

What would you do if you found that the person you’ve been dating and even planning with still carries a box with people he or she has dated over the years? Consider he’s never mentioned this to her, so all sorts of red=lights go off inside her mind. When Kumail finally does come around to tell her shortly after, it’s a minute too late: Emily feels betrayed to the core, and to add salt to the wound, she also doesn’t feel comfortable with being the woman who separated a family out of selfish motives. Perhaps, had Kumail been honest from the word go there could have been a different solution, but as it is, he chose to keep it from her, and now she feels the only way is out of the relationship. And out she goes . . . but she’s soon back into his life in a way Kumail could not have expected.

Kumail gets a call that Emily has fallen sick with a virus. Not having anyone to sign for her stay at the hospital and because her sickness has forced the hospital to perform a medially induced coma, he subs for next of kin. The following morning, Emily’s parents — Beth and Terry (Holly Hunter and Ray Romano) — arrive and aren’t too happy to see Kumail there. But there he stays, slowly ingratiating himself into their good graces as the three of them attempt to find a medical solution for Emily’s condition, which is stable, but delicate. In the interim, Kumail juggles an audition for a comedy event in Montreal and his parents continuing invasion into his own life as they present woman after woman after woman. One of them played by Vella Lovell stands out from the rest and has a poignant scene: after the requisite socializing, Kumail drives her home. She wants to meet him later on and clearly likes him. Kumail informs her that he won’t be seeing her or anyone else for that matter, because he is in love with someone else. She feels heartbroken, and in a quietly impassioned speech points out that she’s grown tired of the dating world and would like to meet someone to relax. What she can’t — or isn’t — unable to see, despite Kumail’s attempts to explain to her, is that theirs is a culture that is flawed by the very existence of arranged marriages. His explanation doesn’t really help the situation out, and in reality, it wouldn’t have anyway. The fact that Gordon and Nunjani keep it real at all times makes it the more painfully awkward but true to behold.

The Big Sick is the kind of story that could have devolved into screwball with romantic overtones, but because every character is fleshed out, and every situation is treated with precise honesty, showcasing comical moments interspersed or enhanced or at the expense of sadness, it manages to let itself breathe on its own merits and not even come close to wringing a tear from you (and promise me you will cry). Its story has a heart that is almost explosive, but one that knows where it will take you as you sit back and let its events happen and not many comedies have that sort of element anymore. Kumail’s parents (played by Anupam Kher and Zenobia Shroff) might seem stereotypical, but in fact, are Pakistani-Americans somewhat caught up in tradition and you can see where Kumail got his oblique sense of humor from. Beth and Terry never overstay their welcome, but have both powerful presences that make their mark onto the movie’s narrative. Most complicated of all is Kumail himself, playing himself, a man caught between love for a woman not of his culture and a passive-aggressive relation to his culture, which has long since had any significance in his life. What can you do when you don’t want to upset the cart and yet, somehow, you find that you can’t life with yourself when you do?

The Big Sick premiered June 23, but has since expanded to most AMC and multiplexes. I highly recommend it.

13 MINUTES (ELSER)

13 MINUTES (ELSER)
Germany
Director:  Oliver Hirschbiegel
Runtime: 110 minutes
Language: German

Mostlyindies Grading: C-

I want to call out to the filmmakers of Germany, young and old, rising and established, good and bad, male and female and in between, because it has to be said, and I can remain silent no longer: please. Please! Tone down the Holocaust movies just a tad. I know there are stories out there, gritty, modern, subversive, romantic, horrific, even transgressive and extreme. I want to see them. I want to experience them, the good and the bad, the tame and the unbridled.

In short, I want to see German Cinema flourish again.

Please understand, I’m not against Holocaust pictures — many are classics, all are disturbing, haunting, horrifying, and moving in regards to the triumph of the human spirit over the mire that is our human nature, yes — but it’s time to start telling stories that are compelling, visually stimulating, mesmerizing. It’s time to move on from the ghosts from the past, and move forward into the experimental while retaining the intrinsically humane. Yes, there are still stories out there begging to be told. I understand. I do. But when every other movie that hits the US shores is another variation of the Holocaust, with either the main character a little-known victim of the Nazi atrocities, or a thinly veiled story based on events that took place during the rise and reign of the Third Reich, it makes me wonder where the creative minds behind great movies are.

It’s not that I don’t feel for the victims. But there comes a moment when you wonder, “It’s another German movie being released here and it’s about Nazis,” and then you find yourself, like David Byrne, asking yourself, what’s the purpose of another rehash? Wasn’t the Hungarian Son of Saul enough? Or the French Night and Fog? Or Shoah? Even this movie’s director had another standout hit a decade earlier with Downfall. Now, he seems to have gone through the motions and agreed to tell a story that is devoid of all subtlety and told in exclamation points from opening credits (excellent) to final scene (tragic). The little known story of Georges Elser, a German national who saw the danger in Hitler from the word go and attempted an assassination in 1939 that failed because the bomb he used to detonate took a crucial 13 minutes to do so and by then the Fuhrer had been gone from his target spot. The fact that this event happens at the start of the movie is compelling enough, but we’re then left with scenes of interrogations, flashbacks to explain how Elser arrived to the conclusion that Hitler needed to be eliminated, and a film surprisingly devoid of Jewish suffering (which in this case could be perhaps because of the singularity of Elser’s own surroundings). It is as handsome a production as it is empty. By the time you reach the end, you’ve been worn out, beaten to a pulp, and not because of Nazi brutality — the film itself is brutal, and not in a good way. I kept expecting Daniel Bruhl to appear at any moment, in full SS garb, wielding a club.

13 Minutes makes me long for more Toni Erdmann‘s, or a return to German Expressionism. Something different. Anything visually stimulating. Just not this bore. And the movie that eventually became Germany’s representation for the Foreign Oscars? Labyrinth of Lies? Not much better.

A GHOST STORY

Casey Affleck haunts his former home in David Lowery’s existential A Ghost Story

A GHOST STORY
USA
Director: David Lowery
Runtime: 90 minutes
Language: English

Mostlyindies Grading:

5 out of 5 stars (5 / 5)

We all have that place that our memories branch out to. What would happen if circumstances beyond our control ripped the fabric of normalcy right out of ourselves and landed us on the other side of reality — the spirit world, a place called limbo? Would we go back to the reality we knew that can never be, see its new tenants, perhaps cohabit in an uneasy agreement with them (while hoping they don’t encroach on our own personal space or the remnants of it)? Would we wander the world seeking for our loved ones, or wait until whatever unresolved conflict would finally mete itself out and set us free to move on?

It is said that a ghost isn’t a spirit at all, but a memory that lingers, an entity that doesn’t know where to go. Nothing could be truer than the case of C, (Casey Affleck), a man in his thirties married contentedly to M (Rooney Mara), living in a quiet little paradise. While their verbal exchanges can be brittle, you get the sense, from a loving exchange following a series of rappings heard around their home (which turns out to be nothing), that this is a couple imperfectly in tune with themselves, loving and living a fulfilled life full of dreams and small joys.

An accident (of which we get to see its aftermath) takes place, and we soon see M identifying C’s body laying on a gurney in the morgue. The camera, which has already  established in long, uninterrupted shots the bond and love that both C and M have for each other, continues to gaze over C’s body. Slowly, C rises, still underneath the sheet covering him, and we can almost gauge his own surprise as to how did he get here. Soon, we are following his steps as he makes his way through the hospital, through the fields, and finally, back home, still covered in a white sheet with black, pleading holes for eyes — and I have never seen eyes more expressive than the ones Affleck’s costume projects.

However, instead of pursuing what we thought would be an inevitable climactic scene reminiscent of Ghost, A Ghost Story has other tricks up its sleeves. C, now a textbook ghost haunting his own house, is seen always in the background, silent, never reaching out. One impressive long take shows M coming home from work, grabbing a pie left as a comfort gift by a friend, sitting on the kitchen floor, and angrily gobbling it up while C simply observes from a calculated distance. The silence in this scene is enormous — it threatens to consume the movie whole. One wonders how many parties, dinners, romantic evenings happened in this now dead space where only sadness lives, and it goes on and on until she frantically scrambles out to barf it up outside.

M eventually meets someone, and C is none too happy, and manifests the first of a couple of poltergeist moments. However, she leaves the house, and if the sight of a forlorn ghost standing at the window, seeing his last link to the living world depart forever doesn’t get your tear-ducts going, nothing will.

Other tenants move in: a Latina mother with her two children who are the only ones to actually either see the ghost, or experience notable poltergeist activity. Will Oldham pops up later in a party scene where they discuss the brevity of mankind and the universe. And yet, the ghost lingers, unnoticed, undisturbed. In the meantime, the ghost strikes up bits of telepathic conversation with a neighbor, who seems female from the flowery sheet she’s covered in. She’s waiting for someone, but has forgotten. Not C: C still pines for M, and you see him dutifully scratching at walls, looking for notes she left behind. Soon, the house is a former wreck of itself, and almost on cue after Oldham’s prediction, the only bang that transpires comes in the form of a bulldozer. Soon, we’re moving into the far future as development takes over, and then the far past as time loops in on itself to the days of settlers . . . and then back to the moment C and M first come into the house.

I have always wanted paranormal pictures to tackle the ghost story genre not as one to cause scares, but to explore and perhaps seek closure. I never thought that such an exploration would be as emotionally devastating and profound as Lowery’s film. To experience an unending sense of loss and then re-experience it again as time loops around itself under the guise of a classic bed-sheet ghost is a gamble but one that pays off: had we seen Affleck throughout, we might not have been as open to identify with the situation. Now, Affleck under a sheet (I assume he was always under a sheet) is another story: his ghost becomes a blank canvas where we place everything we know about ourselves, our memories, our fears of death and loss and pain and the possibility that perhaps there is nothing else. I believe — no, I am confident — that A Ghost Story will be a movie to be seen over and over as a study of grief, and what happens when a person is unable, or unwilling, to let go.

THE LITTLE HOURS

Aubrey Plaza stars in this baudy, raunchy comedy about nuns who encounter a rather studly “mute” (Dave Franco).

THE LITTLE HOURS
USA
Director: Jeff Baena
Runtime: 90 minutes
Language: English

Mostlyindies Grading:

4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

Do not let the habits, or the setting, or the religious imagery fool you. The Little Hours is a rip-roaring, baudy comedy that owes its dues to Woody Allen’s Everything You Wanted to Know About Sex, Mel Brooks movies, and maybe even some early John Waters. Loosely based on Boccaccio’s Decameron, namely the first story of the third day, The Little Hours focuses on the lives of nuns (Aubrey Plaza, Alison Brie, and Kate Micucci) living in relative serene, religious bliss who encounter a young man (Dave Franco) who’s been taken as an apprentice by their priest (John C Reilly). The young man had escaped certain death by his master (Nick Offerman) who caught him having sex with his wife (Lauren Weedman, who’s gone too soon from the film and boasts some razor-sharp scenes with Offerman) and wanted him dead. The priest has decided to have him work in their convent and learn from his sins without knowing that the nuns who live under his roof are not the typical, God-fearing type but strikingly savvy and in need of a man to satisfy their passions. For its brief run — the movie itself is a mere 90 minutes from opening to closing credits — The Little Hours is a laugh a minute riot and manages to throw everything at the audience, from ferocious verbal assaults in modern speech by the nuns themselves to some truly off-the-wall performances by all involved, and even when the entire thing starts to wear just a shade thin — because how long can you keep the crazy running at all cylinders before something starts to give –, this is a solidly entertaining little comedy that will erase all  your momentary troubles away and even boasts a little gravitas underneath its farcical exterior, as we get to see a picture of how difficult it was for women to live back in the 1300s. Go see this one — it’s a shot of fresh air.

THE EXCEPTION

THE EXCEPTION
UK
Director: David Leveaux
Runtime: 108 minutes
Language: English

Mostlyindies Grading:

4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

Dear God, is Jai Courtney gorgeous. The Exception opens with a scene that wouldn’t be amiss in soft-core gay porn, in which Courtney is shown shirtless, pecs to the wind, lying in the dark as if in wait. And my, does the camera love him! In these days in which men can now flaunt everything while doing a full frontal, Courtney reveals so much jaw-dropping masculine beauty I had to stop the movie for a moment and take a breath to recover. Yes, he’s that distracting. No, don’t look at me like that and then roll your eyes; the man is a gentler version of Tom Hardy. And wouldn’t I want to see the both of them–

Okay, getting ahead of myself, and this is a simple review of The Exception, a movie by a director unknown to me, David Leveaux, who adapted the story from an Adam Ladd novel The Kaiser’s Last Kiss –itself a title that screams ‘historical romance!’. So, we have Courtney, all clothed in military garb being whisked off to protect the Kaiser of Germany (Christopher Plummer, having the time of his life, and has an actor been associated more with films on or around Nazi Germany than he? It’s as if though producers, while throwing out potential actors for their movies, saw this one, a war movie set in Nazi Germany and immediately thought, “Ha! Well, well. there’s that actor, Plummer. He’s been doing this since Sound of Music. He can basically phone it in by now. Send him in. No need for an audition. But give him the good one, and leave the asshole role to Eddie Marsan. He already looks like he could kill your children without as much as batting an eye.”).

It seems the Kaiser might be surrounded by spies, and why wouldn’t he? This was war in Europe, and Europe was crawling with spies trolling for intel. But wouldn’t you know, as it happens in a historical romance, Courtney’s SS Captain Brandt crosses paths with an exotic little beauty Mieke (Lily James, fresh off of Downton Abbey) who’s a maid in service of the Kaiser’s household. The flirtation between these two is not something we can call subtle — you’d have to be dead or delusional to not see it happening between your own eyes — but yes, it happens, and why does the plot give so much time to a simple chambermaid if it doesn’t have something up its sleeve? Because it does, and if you see the picture you’ll catch it as subtle as a sledgehammer to the face, but it works perfectly well because, historical romance = potboiler. Meaning, don’t be looking for any historical accuracy here even when there actually was a Kaiser, and his wife (Janet McTeer, who’s good but doesn’t have much to do but act perpetually worried/harried), and Marsan’s Himmler. [However, look closely at Marsan’s chilling portrayal of Himmler during a dinner scene when he talks about experiments made to children. Even in fluff like this, it’s still completely nerve-wracking, that such things were actually done to innocents.]

So with that in mind, I will say that The Exception is a very, very old fashioned war movie. I could easily see actors from the actual time period who could have performed this piece of nonsense without batting an eye. Crawford did it a couple of times at the end of her MGM tenure, Bergman did it as well. Now, Courtney is no Bogart or MacMurray — there is a scene in which he looks so completely vulnerable and naked — did I mention he shows a lot of skin here? — in a way I haven’t seen movies treat their male leads, usually all self-composure and alpha-male tendencies. Courtney’s role is much different: he’s stoic when he needs to, but is incredible sensitive and disarming. No wonder Lily James takes control of what becomes their relationship and basically becomes its pilot, leaving him with the role of protector. So, there you have it, a total crowd-pleaser, the type of movie the characters of Their Finest would have created, and it all ends well. Because in romance, you can’t ever deliver a good story and not have the two romantic leads not end in each other’s arms, can you?

CHURCHILL

Brian Cox visually dominates the screen as Winston Churchill, which last week ended its run at the Quad Cinema.

CHURCHILL
UK
Director: Jonathan Teolitzky
Runtime: 104 minutes
Language: English

I doubt that Brian Cox will get anything even close to an Oscar nod for his portrayal of a man the UK has labeled “the greatest Briton who ever lived”. From the moment he appears on screen, in what seems to be a fevered dream, standing on the edge of n English beach as the waters roll up to the shore glowing a deep crimson, Cox as Churchill visually and aurally dominates the film and does not let go. Not wanting to make the mistake he made in the Battle of Gallipoli during the First World War Churchill balks at the plans General EIsenhower and Bernard Montgomery, England’s Field Marsh to the plans they have for D-Day. They, on the other hand, see him as something of an old coot who may be past his prime and may not have the insight needed to win the war, and largely ignore his calls for caution. As Churchill’s political and inner life unravel, so does his marriage to Clementine (Miranda Richardson, really drawing a fully fleshed out character from her pat scenes) who herself sees a man imploding into nothing. As with all docudramas and biopics this one takes its liberties to draw out the inner conflicts of one of the most famous and celebrated personages of England’s recent history, and while on occasion it veers dangerously close to schmaltz — for example, when a secretary, played by Ella Purnell, makes her own small mark in a speech that moves Churchill — it always remains fairly true to the historical figure and the man in equal measure. Now, if only we could have our own, and not this mess of a leader, all would be well in the nation.

Cburchill is still playing in theaters, but look for it soon on Netflix and other VOD platforms.

OKJA

OKJA
USA
Director: Bong Joon Ho
Runtime: 120 minutes
Language: English, Korean

Mostlyindies grading:

4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

Netflix controversy aside (which hasn’t hurt the company one bit, sorry, Cannes Film Festival purists), Bong Joon-Ho’s too cute entry, Okja, is a piece of prime sirloin steak cooked to perfection, with just the right amounts of A1 sauce, spicy, and brown sugarey to render it equal parts datkly funny with elements of the broadly sentimental and still convey its rather direct social message to an audience apt to forgive its excesses and overtones of maudlin. The premise is criminally simple: a young Korean girl befriends a lab-created pig meant for mass human consumption, and when corporation comes calling, they both go on the run. The corporation, run by CEO Lucy Mirando (Tilda Swinton, who delivers her hilarious over-the-top villainy with deadpan ferocity), has created a number of super pigs (i. e. giant porcine creations) that have the sole purpose to Feed the World and thus save humanity from hunger. While she sugarcoats her intentions with almost cartoonlike cuteness, the intent is clear. Her company intends to bank good cash on the sale of mass pig meat aimed at mass consumption.

What Mirando doesn’t even guess is that Mija, the Korean farm girl in question, has befriended Okja, the pig that has been entrusted to her father, and in doing so, she’s established a strong bond of communication that no one in the meat-producing industry would understand. When Mirando’s comes calling in the form of super-nerdy Dr. Wilcox (Jake Gylenhaal, having a blast with his off-the-wall turn as an emasculated, high-pitched scientist in the Bill Nye vein), let’s say that the plot goes full steam ahead, and soon we’re whisking Mija off to Seoul and then to the US in search of her pig while at the same time, animal activists led by  Paul Dano seek to unveil Mirando’s real intents and expose them for what they are.

For the most, Okja delivers like fast food made to perfection, juicy and rich and addictive. I can’t really say there is anything wrong about the film other than it may not be intended for younger audiences due to some scenes of implied carnage — a scene where we see an entire farm of pigs in an abattoir, ready to be turned into meat, might not be suitable for kids. All in all this is a perfect children’s movie, one that delivers the message in a way that isn’t too horrifying but rather straightforward; everyone plays their part almost as second skin, and if you can get past the CGI creation and oversimplified plot antics, this is really almost two hours of popcorn fun with a well-intentioned heart at its center.