Tag Archives: drama

Classic Cinema: Nicholas Ray’s In a Lonely Place

Sometimes I’m at odds with what other critics have to say about a film. Just because, let’s say, the late Roger Ebert loved a film doesn’t mean that once I see it I’ll view it the same way. A curious thing has happened with Nicholas Ray’s 1950 movie http://go.culinaryinstitute.edu/college-application-essay-about-culture/ https://pacificainexile.org/students/salem-witch-trials-thesis/10/ volunteer essays source link resume and human resources buy descriptive essay parts of a research paper thesis follow creating thesis statement worksheet disobeying direct order essay term paper service https://teleroo.com/pharm/spray-on-viagra-for-men/67/ how to write a testimonial speech https://ramapoforchildren.org/youth/professional-content-editor-site/47/ learning disability nursing dissertation topics levitra norwalk posledici od viagra viagra baker follow viagra duration of intercourse viagra ohne rezept aus deutschland follow url https://nyusternldp.blogs.stern.nyu.edu/how-to-find-my-router-ip-address-mac/ book report for stink enter site how to check if my ip address is hacked https://pacificainexile.org/students/zoology-terms/10/ goals for writing an academic paper sample argumentative essay topics https://climbingguidesinstitute.org/17039-esl-blog-ghostwriter-service-for-mba/ homework help tudors steps in writing a research paper for high school In a Lonely Place. Back then critics praised it, yes, but recently a whole new crop of critics have begun to not just see it as a good movie of its era, but as one of the most essential films one should watch and one of the best film noirs ever made.

When I saw it just a little under a week ago I knew next to nothing about it (as usual when I rent a movie). The fact that it had Gloria Grahame and Humphrey Bogart, two noir stalwarts, seemed to solidify the need to see it. However, the moment that the movie began, I kept waiting for something. True, the first scene in which Bogart’s Dix Steele gets interrupted by a fluttery and flirtatious Mildred Atkinson (Martha Stewart, not to be confused with the “It’s a good thing Martha Stewart who not just gave us useless household tips but also did a little inside trading for kicks) has its moments. I kept referring to the comedic levity that Lee Patrick brought onto her appearances in The Maltese Falcon. However, once Stewart exits the stage, she somehow takes the entire film with her. That says something.

It turns out, Mildred Atkinson has been murdered on her way home and no one knows who did it. Because she has been seen exiting Dix Steele’s apartment, suspicion falls on him. Lucky for him, a neighbor, budding actress Laurel Grey (Grahame) makes her statement proclaiming Steele’s innocence. That should do it, right? Case closed, right?

Murdered girl Mildred Atkinson played by Martha Stewart attempts to share a juicy novel she just read, but Dix Steel is not having it.

Well… no. If that were the case we wouldn’t have a movie. The investigation, plus Steele’s own rather glib testimony of what happened, exacerbated by his own violent temper — Steele has been known to engage in fights and act erratically — officers seem to have an eye on Steele. That doesn’t stop Steele from getting chummy with Laurel, so chummy that they both fall in love and are super close to getting married. While that’s all fine with me… there is next to no mystery. And while a married couple friends of Steele start to show doubts that he was Mildred’s killer, and investigators press Laurel into doubting her own self and testimony, it all gets played out rather plain, even with weird comedic overtones.

The addition of a sequence in which Laurel gets a back massage by the very butch and Evelyn Harperesque Ruth Gillette seems to belong in another movie completely. Gillette and Grahame have a conversation pregnant with innuendo that suggests perhaps a past “friendship”, or a situation where Grahame (as Laurel) had some sort of intimacy and now that Laurel is seeing Steel Gillette has been sidelined. It seems like a move to grant Laurel some ambiguity as well as to throw some quasi-lesbian vibes. Frankly, it took me out of the muddled mess and had me wondering where was the thrill

So as you see, I’m obviously in the minority, or in a group of people who upon viewing Ray’s movie didn’t get a sense that it was all that it was pumped up to be. In no way am I saying that In a Lonely Place is a bad movie — it’s not; it is good — but it’s terribly flawed and most certainly not noir. A late scene in which several people interrupt what was supposed to be a romantic night out (watch for Alix Talton of The Praying Mantis fame in a comedic turn) just collapses into cheap melodrama before turning the final corner into the climactic sequence.

Trailer for In a Lonely Place by Nicholas Ray

Upon later reading about In a Lonely Place, based on the Dorothy B Hughes’ novel of the same name, I realized that despite concerns, the movie should have never deviated from the book that much. However, in 1947 movies did not focus on a character that was essentially a raging psychopath. In the book Steele is something of a Tom Ripley, being the bad guy and also the architect of a murder. Would it that Ray had followed in Hitchcock’s steps and brought this! I would have loved to see a movie driven by a reprehensible person who had enough sympathy to make us root for him. That would have been challenging, and today, it is the norm. If you want to see a solid French movie that makes us hate and root for our antihero, do check out Next Time I’ll Aim for the Heart (La prochaine fois Je visceral le Coeur) by Cédric Anger from 2014.

Also hurting the movie is its pacing. Hitchcock’s The Wrong Man follows a similar path minus the comedic moments. With slightly different circumstances — in this movie, a man who happens to be at the wrong place and at the wrong time — gets implicated in a murder he did not commit. Proving his innocence, however, comes at a terrible toll for himself and his wife. While In a Lonely Place does have a bleak ending — that mirrored more closely the end of Ray’s marriage to Grahame for reasons disputed (Ray caught her in bed with his 13-year-old son, whom she would marry several years later, preceding Mary Kay Letourneau), it’s just not that good. Both Grahame and Bogart are more known for excellent performances both prior to this one and would go on to score Oscar wins in the near future — he for his performance in The African Queen in 1951 and she for her tiny yet unforgettable performance in The Bad and the Beautiful only a year later.

Two Films by Dan Sallitt: The Unspeakable Act and fourteen

Imager from Amazon

The Unspeakable Act

Taboo relations often get depicted as salacious and macabre on film, so for Dan Sallitt to come out and do a low-key drama about a young woman (Talli Medel) having an unrequited and unresolved crush/fixation on her brother definitely caught my attention. I always like a more detached, intellectual approach to subject matter that might be a bit sordid because it allows the characters on display to behave rather unpredictably and not according to what one would want from them. In Sallitt’s The Unspeakable Act, we get introduced to an extremely laid-back family where it seems arguments and confrontations do not exist. The only drama that exists is the one binding the two siblings at the center, Jackie (Medel) and Matthew (Sky Hirschkron) and even that involves them only as it’s mostly an abstract concept narrated by Jackie in voice-over.

It turns out, Jackie has harbored an unusual and borderline unhealthy fixation towards Matthew. It also becomes clear that he is aware of it because he sets clear boundaries between himself and Jackie. When he brings home a girlfriend she is so inwardly upset (while acting completely against how she feels) that she becomes unable to eat until Matthew breaks up with her. Hope sets in and Jackie conspires to have her feelings met, but it’s clear this is not an option. Somewhat resigned, Jackie then goes see a therapist and persists in being rather passively hostile, almost as a defense mechanism in which she both hurls words as sharp as knives towards the therapist, which is in reality, Jackie attempting to equal parts diminish her unhealthy attraction and perhaps self-punish herself for feeling this way.

Sallitt never ratches up the tension in Jackie’s family and the most one will see is both siblings meeting for what may seem one last time before diverging, and Matthew informing that she has finally crossed that unspoken line, This is the type of movie I love; it may not be perfect — both the mother and the other sister were underwritten and sometimes Jackie’s narration can go into too much exposition (as if Medel’s performance, equal parts alienating and intriguing were to get lost in translation somehow), Sallitt dedicates his work to French director Eric Rohmer and I can definitely see some influence without it taking away from Sallitt’s own style. Too many directors who have been influenced by other more established directors tend to emulate their style in a way that seems imitation. Sallitt, on the other hand, drops references but never steals. That, in essence, is what a narrator wants — he can wear all the influences he ha on his sleeve but they shouldn’t scream imitation or worse, reenactment down to scene selections.

And with that, I was ready to see his latest film Fourteen.

Image from Cine-Vue. Talli Medel (left) and Norma Kuhling (right in Fourteen

Fourteen

Some bonds are stronger than family. You meet that person and they become linked to you for better or worse. In Dan Sallitt’s fourth feature film Fourteen, he presents two young women who may as well be sisters from another mother. Mara (Talli Medel) and Jo (Norma Kuhling) couldn’t be any more different if they tried… but that is precisely the unseen glue that has held them together since they were fourteen. The incident that sparked their friendship was when Jo intervened in a situation where Mara was being bullied at school. From then on, they’ve been inseparable, even linked through the other’s absence.

The problem is that childhood friends grow up and with that, they grow apart. That they may not acknowledge it is contingent on how aware they are, and it seems that now the roles have progressively reversed. Mara has gotten her life together as a teacher’s aid who aspires to be a writer and is dating a great, stable guy. Jo, on the other hand, seems to have her own life in shambles… and it’s about to go from bad to worse.

Sallitt never indicates a precise timeframe to tell his story. We get no subtitles or title cards announcing a transition but infer, from the friend’s reunions, how much time has transpired. After the first scene in which both Mara and Jo and their respective boyfriends hang out and make small talk, we move to a progressive separation. Mara is married; Jo is not, and has started to become dependent on drugs to survive. A frantic call leads Mara to rush to Jo’s aid only to be cooly rebuffed by Jo’s enabler boyfriend. Jo later calls Mara in the middle of the night (after having canceled a dinner event) and shows up, ostensibly to vent out her multitude of problems. That Mara allows Joe to essentially ruin her marriage is toxic in itself, but speaks volumes for those who have been caught in that kind of friendship devoid of boundaries when one friend clearly has mental and emotional disturbances.

I kept thinking of another film in which two women — sisters, this time — sustained a friendship in which one of them slid into depravity while the other attempted to help and eventually got her own life in order: Looking for Mr. Goodbar. Now, hear me out: this is not that movie for obvious reasons. Goodbar was a movie in which two women diverged in life and the more tragic one spun into butter, essentially getting murdered viciously in the end. Take away the violence and focus the movie on a more restrained approach and you have a different rendition. Fourteen presents both women as equal, although this time Medel carries the less showy part and lets Kuhling move from false poise to defeat in 90 minutes. Kuhling’s performance is on-target for anyone with a Borderline Personality Disorder, and it is truly a wonder to see how much tragedy she conveys while on screen. The shame is that while she implicitly seems to be crying for help, a person like Jo would never truly accept it and only return to the festering wound that is killing her slowly.

Fourteen is, to put it bluntly, Sallitt’s best work and as close to a masterpiece in presenting two fully formed women interlocked in a codependent relationship. It is so far one of the best that I have seen this year in transit — rent it, and experience its universe. It is available to stream on Grasshopperfilm.com and you should see it.

Review: Noah Baumbach’s devastating MARRIAGE STORY

Image from Netflix

Before this movie will be over two lives and a family will be shattered. Noah Baumbach brings his most scalding portrait of a family headed by Scarlett Johanssen and Adam Driver as Nicole and Charlie Barber. From a couple filled with dreams and plans to Have It All — he’s a theater director; she’s an actress of some note who left her career to be a wife–, we have an early, key scene, a subway scene. One one end, Nicole sits, while clear across the car, Charlie stands. Both stare at seemingly nothing. Mind you, this is an empty car with plenty of seating. We wonder what is dividing the two of them… and once the inevitable split down the middle happens, we will get it under the form of a protracted separation sequence that by the end will have left you gasping for air and hoping this never, ever, happens to you.

A detour: how did I miss this? I tend to fling myself at Baumbach’s movies with the hunger of a rabid tiger hunting down its prey. Then I dig in, feast in on the rich story and characters, and leave, satisfied, only to throw praises shortly after to anyone who will listen. This time, the scene at the 57th New York Film Festival was too rich for me to choose and since Marriage Story was coming out on Netflix in November. I chose to focus on smaller gems like Vitalina Varela, The Traitor, Saturday Fiction, and Beanpole. Oh well. I don’t regret a thing.

Also, I didn’t really think that this would be that good. The Meyerowitz Stories was great, yes, but not explosively great — typical Baumbach narrative of a dysfunctional family who can’t quite fit in. As a matter of fact, the last movie of his that struck me this deeply was Frances Ha. Nothing could prepare me for the emotional impact Marriage Story would ultimately have on me, particularly on that awful, horrible scene in which Nicole and Charlie meet for one last time and… well, you have to see it to believe it.

Back to the movie. Baumbach was inspired by his own divorce to Jennifer Jason Leigh in 2013 (at about the same time he was seeing Greta Gerwig, who was the star of Frances Ha). I don’t know the events that led to Baumbach’s split. I can, however, see a marked correlation between the movie that became Marriage Story and previous films like War of the Roses (minus the property damage), Scenes from a Marriage, and Kramer vs. Kramer. In all of these movies, the wife is the one who decides she cannot continue with the marriage and sees that the love once shared is and has been dead in the water for a while now. The husband, clearly dumbfounded, is left to collect the shambles and attempt either reconciliation or some form of closure that will probably not happen, at least, not before an enormous legal battle that will erode at the emotions and end with battle scars and a child torn in between.

That battle – the proceedings leading to their divorce proper. Once Nicole has decided to remain in Los Angeles after walking out on her New York-bound husband, she seeks legal advice from everyone she can, leaving Charlie with little options. Once she settles on Nora Fanshaw (Laura Dern, excellent) the legal war is on. Charlie, still not quite realizing what is about to ensue, stalls, but at Nora’s cold warning of what will happen if he does not heed the papers that have been served to him, forcibly relocates to LA to prove residence in order to claim custody of his son. He then rents out an apartment and first goes with a good but ineffectual lawyer (Alan Alda), only to settle with an aggressive attorney (played by Ray Liotta) once Nora throws everything on the table to make sure Nicole lands not just on her feet but with thick roots.

in the end, who wins? No one, really… Charlie has to now contend that his life with Nicole has ended, and she herself has moved on but has she really?

Marriage Story is a devastating piece of meta-fiction disguised as a drama that never overstates its emotions in a bombastic fashion. Instead, it lets scenes play out naturally, allowing us to get to know both sides of the story. We see two people who are competitive (the word tends to come out in their statements), who try to see each other, but simply, cannot. Sadly, as is often the case, it is the wife who often has to play subservient to the husband and let her ambitions glide by while he creates his empire. That is all fine and dandy… until it all comes crashing down, brick by brick. Johannsen and Driver never overplay their parts, and you constantly get reminded that while they never state it, there is the bond that even after the war is over, keeps them together. They go all out in complex, subdued performances that make their late confrontation so heart-wrenching to experience. Laura Dern has never been better in a part that is rich in feminist brushstrokes and is not afraid to expose her breasts in a scene in which her client (Nicole) is being slut-shamed for having bared hers in an indie movie. In many ways, she represents the aggressive voice most women going through a nasty divorce never get to have, and her scenes are magnetic. Liotta and Alda show up playing their parts in their idiosyncratic style, and there is Julie Hagerty in a small but comic part as Nicole’s dizzy mother.

IT’S ONLY THE END OF THE WORLD

IT’S ONLY THE END OF THE WORLD (JUSTE LA FIN DU MONDE)

Canada/France
Director: Xavier Dolan
Runtime: 98 minutes
Language: French

Mostlyindies’ grading: B+

Even though It’s Just the End of the World is based on the Jean-Luc LaGrace play of the same name, this could very well be yet another of director Xavier Dolan’s incursions into his own semi-autobiographical movies which deal with overbearing mothers and overall family dysfunction (and if you haven’t seen them you should; starting with his striking debut film I Killed My Mother and culminating in Mommy, he has amassed an impressive body of work based mainly on variations on a theme.

His seventh movie more or less delves into familiar Dolan territory: Louis (Gaspard Ulliel), a famous writer, has returned home (pretentiously titled “Somewhere…”) to make an announcement. He hasn’t been home in 12 years, so when we see his family — punkish younger sister Suzanne (Lea Seydoux) arguing with her mother Martine (Nathalie Baye), while older brother Antoine (Vincent Cassel, vicious) glowers on and his wife Catherine (Marion Cotillard, cast against type playing a soft spoken bumbler of a woman) anticipates in quiet timidity — we know that something already is not right. The second Louis walks through the door they shower him with affections and praise and the occasional family banter, but it’s a set-up for something darker that makes its way rather quickly.

We never know why, but it seems there is some unspoken tension in the room between Antoine and Louis. Antoine is fast to turn not just mean but downright vicious at the very presence of Louis in the house and take every chance he has to sour the moments of happiness Martine and Suzanne experience. During all this, Louis ponders on his announcement — the right time to make it — while he spends time with his family, mostly in conversations about the past as they inevitably rehash and occasionally reveal some resentment in his success and his return to the house. These conversations invariably turn sour and it’s clear that perhaps returning was perhaps not the best idea, especially where are unhealed wounds that no one will talk about.

Xavier Dolan uses his technique of filling the screen with his characters’ faces to achieve a sense of claustrophobia and it works; I often felt repelled by almost all of the characters — Louis included — at one point of the other. While Louis emerges by far as the most sympathetic, he has no strength, it seems, and does next to nothing to stand up for himself; instead choosing to suffer in pained silence as his family prattles on in staccato rhythms about this or that, occasionally lapsing into spurts of verbal violence that sends them off in different directions, as if too afraid to even sit down together. As a matter of fact, there is a palpable sense of something terrible and unspoken just lingering underneath everyone’s mind, but neither the playwright nor Dolan explore it, leaving the viewer somewhat up in the air with a sense of “well, it’s clear the brothers hate each other, but no one knows why”.

Perhaps Antoine envies the life that Louis has been able to lead. He is the most antagonistic of them all, Martine being basically the mother in Mommy, redux, and Catherine the stuttering teacher in the same film. [The only one who seems to be her own creation is Suzanne.] Antoine, however, is an enigma — is he homophobic, or simply a man full of self-hatred and contempt that perhaps the younger brother made it while he marinated in a low-paying job making tools? We’ll never know; Dolan does not give us answers. In a way, this is closer to Woody Allen’s Interiors, in which that family was also on verge of destruction because of some inner fracture that has divided them all.

What is true is Dolan continues to deliver on his films (despite other critics’ negative reviews). The man knows how to tell a character study of people caught in a hell called home, unable to leave, as the people in Bunuel’s The Exterminating Angel.

It’s Just the End of the World is available on Netflix.






FLOWERS (LOREAK)

 

FLOWERS
Spain
Director: Jon Garano and Jose Mari Goenaga
Runtime: 97 minutes
Language: Basque

Mostlyindies Grading:

4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

Criminally under-screened when it made its way to US Cinemas in the fall of 2015, Flowers for Ane as it is also known is a quiet mood piece that has parts of a simmering mystery whose arms have a greater arc — namely, that of the one that relates disparate characters to one another via the disguise of a bouquet of gorgeous flowers.

Ane (Nagore Aranburu), a woman in her forties it seems, has been diagnosed with menopause. It doesn’t help that she’s already trapped in a dead marriage, but one day she opens the door of her house to an eccentric gift: a bouquet of flowers, from a stranger. No return address, nothing to attach it to. The flowers become a regular appearance — one bouquet a week — and it’s a cause of embarrassment for her, and places more strain on her marriage. She has her suspicions of who may be sending them, and an accident a coworker suffers, in which a pendant of Ane is found in his car, seals her suspicions.

From then on she pays tribute to her dead coworker, not knowing his wife Lourdes (Itziar Ituno), a tollbooth employee, has seen her leave bouquets of flowers at his memorial. Lourdes has been in a love-hate (or, let’s put it frankly, a hate-hate relationship) with her now dead husband’s mother Tere (Itziar Aitzpuru). Think the comically strained relationship between Debra Barone and Marie Barone, remove the comedy, amp up the passive aggressiveness, and you get the picture. These two women can’t stand each other. How Loreak manages to balance this trio of women who eventually reach a sort of inner peace within themselves — of sorts — is a trick that both directors are keen to pull off; however, the story’s deep symbolism, of people connected by acts of random kindness and the ubiquitous flowers, might be a little too outre to bear, even at a lean 95 minutes. And the final piece of the mystery — that of the sender, and his motives — might reveal there’s more to the story than we’re being told. Even so, Loreak is a solid melodrama about human compassion.

Flowers is available on Netflix and Amazon Prime.

 






L’ATTESA (THE WAIT)

2.5 out of 5 stars (2.5 / 5)

 

attesa1

There is an undercurrent of similarities between Anne, the grieving mother in Piero Messina’s debut feature film L’Attesa (The Wait) and the grieving mother and widow she played a little under a quarter of a century ago in Krzystof Kieslowski’s Trois Couleurs: Bleu (Three Colors: Blue). Both women start off losing a loved one, but where Julie retreats into her inner world and virtually disappears into the streets of Paris only to find herself through her dead husband’s last musical composition for the Unification of Europe, Anne remains a mystery only unto herself and the loss that pains her. I’m perfectly okay with that–I tend to gravitate to stories where characters move within their own little psychodramas that may or not have a perfect resolution. However, L’Attesa suffers from too much pretension and too little substance and fails to bring any closure on any level, and that to me is a problem.

We know from the start that Anne has lost her son Giuseppe. We don’t know how, but that it seems, doesn’t matter. We next see his girlfriend Jeanne (Lou de Laage, previously seen on this side of the pond in the excellent movie Breathe [Respire], which debuted here at the 2015 Rendezvous with French Cinema) arriving for a visit. It seems Giuseppe had invited Jeanne to visit him at his mother’s house before the events that start the movie. When she arrives, she’s greeted with a silence that is frankly, unsettling — almost Gothic. It doesn’t help that the house is darker than the mansion in The Others save for some dim blue lights coming from the stained glass windows. It also doesn’t help that the hostess (Anne) is so out of sorts it’s a wonder she can even speak. That no one in the house informs Jeanne what has transpired is an oddity in itself, and makes me wonder, am I in the middle of a thriller? Is something else amiss that I’m going to eventually find out? Is Giuseppe a male version of Rochester’s wife, in Jane Eyre, locked in a dungeon or an attic and perhaps Anne is deranged? And if she is, what mess has Jeanne gotten herself into?

attesa

No. L’Attesa plays its cards firmly against its chest and reveals rien. We are left with two women continuously circling each other, attempting to make conversation, observing, yet never totally giving in. Why Anne makes the choice she makes is beyond any comprehension unless there’s that “verbalizing would eventually make something unthinkable real”, but even then — it just strains credibility and turns a story that had enormous potential into images in chiaroscuro that really don’t amount to much. L’Attesa only saves itself from being a terrible mess by the performances of Juliette Binoche and Lou de Laage who foil each other perfectly. Other than that, it’s an okay debut for Piero Messina (who has worked as assistant director for Paolo Sorrentino and it shows), but not much else.