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TULIP FEVER

 

TULIP FEVER

UK / USA
Director: Justin Chadwick
Runtime: 108 minutes
Language: English

Mostlyindies’ grading: D

It’s always a warning sign when a movie keeps getting pushed back and back until its distributor has no more options than to release it and hope to recoup some revenue. The atrociously titled Tulip Fever, a movie that makes you think it will be a documentary about the famed Dutch flower, lands with such a mighty thud that it basically cracks the pavement and sends shock-waves. That’s how bad it is, and it’s a shame, because it’s often sumptuous to look at; the production and art direction is a feast for the eyes. It should have been better by miles being that Tom Stoppard (who wrote Shakespeare in Love) wrote it, and Justin Chadwick directed it.

Tulip Fever is the story of a poor Dutch girl named Sophia (Alicia Vikander, rapidly turning into an overrated actress stuck in awful period pictures) who gets sold into a marriage of convenience to a wealthy merchant named Cornelius Sandvoort (Christoph Waltz, cast against type) who truly loves her despite her inability to have children. Wanting to remember their happiness together (and his luck at finding such a beautiful wife) he commissions a young artist named Jan Van Loos (Dane DeHaan, completely dead in the eyes) to paint their portrait. It’s no shocker that Sophia and Jan will find themselves in a hot and heavy tangle of passions, but then the story decides to branch out to other realms, and gets so complicated you’re taking notes to find out who’s on first, second, and third.

A maid (Holliday Grainger) gets pregnant by her also hot and heavy boyfriend (Jack O’Connell, completely miscast and wasted in about five minutes of screen time). Sophia gets a bright idea to feign a pregnancy in order to give Cornelius a child. Meanwhile, that romance that she was having with Jan takes a hike and for a large chunk of the movie all we see is him getting into the tulip trade in order to score big, and finally whisk Sophia away to The Good Life, somewhere. That plan backfires, and by then, all logic has flown out the window, turned into something Edgar Allan Poe on a happy day would have written in his sleep, and we’re left with nothing but the feeling that somehow, the author of this trashy story is chuckling to herself at having sold gullible readers a pile of rubbish for them to chew up like famished survivors of a downed ship that has been at sea for months.

My issue with this beautiful, overplotted train wreck is more the fact that it never knows what it wants to be: a sex farce, a drama, a romance, or a thriller with slight Gothic overtones. While you have Tom Hollander and Judi Dench providing much needed levity in their small roles as smarmy doctor/lecher and abbess, Zach Galifanakis’ presence gets the WTF performance of the year. Other than that, this is a terrible, misguided botch that will most likely die soon at the box office before the current month is over. If you choose to watch this mess, make sure you’ve drank a good amount of the good stuff. It’s soften the blow, trust me.

THE SENSE OF AN ENDING

 

THE SENSE OF AN ENDING
UK
Director: Ritesh Batra
Runtime: 108 minutes
Language: English

2.5/5

If you’re looking for a 15 dollar nap to alleviate your insomnia, then by all means, you’re cordially  invited to the Lincoln Plaza or the Landmark Sunshine in NYC where you can go, sit back, stare at the metronome of a story suspended before you, let the somnolence of this messy plot take you past the gates of Lethe. If you catch yourself snoring a litle, don’t despair — you won’t be alone. Just make sure you’re not in the middle of the theater, or close to the front. The Lincoln Plaza is basically the geriatric theater, and some of the older folk who attend movie screenings tend to be rather vocal at all times, commenting when they should be watching the film, so if your snore happens to catch their ears you can be sure they will let you know you are infringing on their viewing pleasure (as they themselves continue to yammer away at the tiniest scenes, or wonder who could that actress playing Jim Broadbent’s daughter be?).

Reader, what a colossal disappointment this movie is. After seeing the trailer on YouTube I went in, unsuspecting, hoping for a restrained drama that would eventually reveal its secrets after peeling back layers and layers of events half-mentioned, secrets half-disclosed, into some major revelation, something approaching catharsis. No. That never happens here. Nothing of consequence ever happens, and perhaps that is the point? That the effect we think we have on our friends and ex-college classmates wasn’t as important as we imagined it to be. Either/or, The Sense of an Ending, while it’s speckled with moments of curt humor between Jim Broadbent and Harriet Walker who play ex-spouses, or Broadbent and Michelle Dockery (as his lesbian daughter), the film’s backstory is merely filler treated in a way as to present a mystery that reveals more mysteries.

So, let’s get into the premise. Tony Webster (Broadbent) receives a notification that a woman he knew when he was in college, Sarah Ford (played in flashbacks by Emily Mortimer), the mother of a girl he awkwardly dated, has died and left him a diary for him to read. The conflict of the novel arises when the daughter (and former flame), Veronica (Charlotte Rampling) refuses to hand over the property. Conversations point to the fact that perhaps she isn’t willing to part just yet due to a personal attachment, which is entirely possible. All this looks like it should be some sort of romantic suspense story — will we learn the contents of the diary or not? — but Ritesh Batra holds off to this important plot point, preferring instead to go back in time to when Webster was in college, falling in love with Veronica, losing her to a close friend who it seems that he also held some affection (or is it attraction). It’s a problem because the entire movie hangs onto this One Thing, and when we finally get there, when Rampling finally enters the picture to deliver her Beatrice Straight scene (she essentially has one long scene with Broadbent, but is seen later in glimpses), it comes not as a revelation but a let-down.

This is why Sense of a an Ending is so disappointing. I don’t mind pictures that fail to disclose all of their secrets — if anything, sometimes that works to magnify a film’s allure — but when you have a story that is amplified up by bloat, and a main character who seems not to have grown over the years and reflected upon his own life and relation to others, you have a movie that is closer to dead on arrival.

LOUDER THAN BOMBS

4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

 

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Nothing brings a family dysfunction to the surface like the departure of the glue that holds them together, and in Joachim Trier’s and Eskil Vogt’s new film Louder than Bombs it all rings too true. However, this is not a melodramatic film — it would have been easy to give actors scene after scene of loud arguing, emoting, and a finale of almost grandiose proportions. Trier instead has created a rather tender and quiet portrait of a father and his two sons coming to terms with the premature death of their mother who was a noted photo journalist and had a couple of secrets of her own.

The mother, Isabelle (Isabelle Huppert), hovers over the picture like a ghost who won’t rest in peace. When we first see her she’s getting some award for her body of work. Soon later we realize how it was she really died — in a car crash, possibly caused by her, which would make it suicide. However, no one ever truly speaks out that word and it starts a chain of avoidance between the surviving characters who now have to contend with this shattered new reality. Gene (Gabriel Byrne), Isabelle’s widow, has no idea how to reach his teenage son Conrad (David Druid) who has become withdrawn and aggressive, so he takes to either following him after school or playing World of Warcraft in order to connect. Gene has also been carrying on with Hannah (Amy Ryan), David’s teacher, in a movie that seems more out of loneliness than anything.

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In the meantime, in for a retrospective of his mother’s work, older son Jonah (Jesse Eisenberg) shows up. He’s recently become a father and on the night that his wife borne him a son he ran into and reconnected with a former flame who’s mother was also dying in the hospital.

As I said before, this isn’t a movie with big revelations complete with an abundance of self-important dialog or all too camera-ready scene chewing. If at all the only moment that any performance feels completely naked even when it doesn’t reveal anything other than inner torment is a flashback sequence showing Huppert in a hotel, her face pinched and sad. It’s no wonder she’s this force that will not give away: Huppert has imbued her character with a world of inner pain that perhaps had no other solution than the way out. Everyone else is left to gravitate around her and try to fill in the void she has left.

Because of this, Louder than Bombs may disappoint viewers looking for that “a-ha!” moment when everyone comes into the foreground and sounds off. I actually preferred this somewhat elliptical turn, since let’s face it, this is closer how we tend to react to traumas such as these. It’s probably despite of this, where the film films incomplete, that one will appreciate its content more.

ANESTHESIA

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Hooked on Film rating:

3.5 out of 5 stars (3.5 / 5)

Here is an ambitious movie that wishes to present unto you, the viewer, an overreaching, multi-leveled series of story-lines designed to present a cohesive, thematic whole not too dissimilar to the likes of greater ensembles of the likes Robert Altman and Woody Allen directed (i. e. Nashville, Gosford Park, Annie Hall, Hannah and Her Sisters), and almost succeeds. I say almost because when we’ve seen these pictures one too many times, the freshness of the material becomes a bit stale and staged. If anyone recalls a little movie called Crash that inexplicably won the Oscars in 2006, then that is the one that this movie seems to pay homage to. It didn’t work well (for the most part, except in some isolated circumstances), and it doesn’t quite deliver this time.

Anesthesia opens rather dramatically: on an Upper West Side corner, Walter (Sam Waterston) crosses the street to buy some flowers at a deli. Moments later a couple, Sam and Nicole (Corey Stoll and Mickey Sumner) get jolted out of their sleep and rush downstairs to find out that the man we just met has been brutally stabbed in what seems a random attack. Suddenly, Anesthesia goes back in time to about a week prior to its opening scene, and we’re introduced to Walter as a philosophy professor at Columbia, delivering his final classes before starting a life of retirement alongside his wife Marcia (Glenn Close). Everyone that he has met or will encounter within this space and time has some form of isolation in the form of escapism.

For instance, there is Sophie (Kristen Stewart, essaying another complex role). When we first meet her she’s sitting in the college cafeteria when she has a rather unpleasant encounter with a guy who wants her chair, to which she refuses. It turns ugly, and then we see that Sophie seems to be at odds with the world around her, a thing she copes with by injuring herself. Sam and Nicole, who encounter Walter at the opening of Anesthesia, are in the middle of an affair. Sam, allegedly, is in China, his wife (Gretchen Mol) in Northern New Jersey, drinking her pain away, suspicious that he is lying to her. Walter’s son Adam (Tim Blake Nelson) and his wife (Jessica Hecht) are coping with a lump on her breast while their kids get high to cope with their parents’ tension. And adding to this mix are two unrelated characters: Jeffrey (Michael Williams), a high-powered African-American lawyer who is trying to force his childhood friend Joe  (K. Todd Freeman) out of his drug-addiction and back to sobriety.

So, as this stands, there are a lot of characters to cover in the barely 90 minutes of running time. For the most part, Tim Blake Nelson succeeds without making the entire premise look too affected. What bothered me a little was the fact that Anesthesia seemed to, yet again, be mostly a front to present White People’s Problems under the guise of racial tensions that happen rather unexpectedly late in the film. Everyone has a certain degree of self-absorption, so it’s hard to feel too much sympathy for the characters that surround Walter, although the one character that does come through is the one who couldn’t be further from this circle of over-privileged White people living in the clouds of Upper West Side domesticity: Joe.

Beyond Joe’s addiction there are gears and cogs turning. There is a character — a real person — trying to come out. Sadly, Anesthesia relegates Joe to a hospital bed, yelling into thin air, completely dependent on the phone call from Jeffrey that fails to arrive (Jeffrey’s met a female lawyer of probably White, but ill-defined ethnicity, for a tryst). Joe’s biggest scene comes late, and is as mysterious as it is pregnant with possibilities. It’s again, inexplicable to me why it’s also left unexplored and instead goes for something that seems to be a necessary cop out that brings the story back to its opening scene.

Anesthesia is a story enamored of its own concept that has moments of humor, moments of pathos, but ultimately doesn’t know where to go once the moment that it — and we — go “Aha!” arrives. That n itself is a crying shame.