Michael Powell’s The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp

Image from BFI

It’s a shame that Michael Powell is known in the US for what seems to be basically only one movie — academic essay https://caberfaepeaks.com/school/buy-papers-sell-term/27/ help me with my physics homework sociological thesis topics https://www.myrml.org/outreach/thesis-defense-presentation-tips/42/ enter site https://www.go-gba.org/22028-essays-about-sports/ popular application letter writing for hire gb sample thesis on employee retention pdf go https://www.cei.utah.edu/wp-content/blogs.dir/15/files/2013/?speech=essay-on-technology-and-life free mba dissertation topics how to find out if a paper is plagiarized for free https://ncappa.org/term/examples-of-english-language-essays/4/ free essay writing help enter site http://mcorchestra.org/4033-how-to-write-a-2-paragraph-essay/ go to link viagra vente libre europe viagra atorvastatin acheter logirene retention d'eau source watermelon viagra substitute http://www.danhostel.org/papers/cheat-essays/11/ follow url https://211ventura.org/choice/essay-on-mahatma-gandhi-english/40/ enter site can i write a personal check at target social work paper topics thesis topics ideas education hypothesis steps https://www.go-gba.org/16284-argument-essays-samples/ The Red Shoes, a mainstay on TCM’s programming. Or that in 1960, Powell released a movie that many have stated “killed” his career, the bloodless psychological horror movie Peeping Tom, which scandalized anyone who saw it but now… seems mostly a case of “WTF were these people scared of?”

What many of us — me included — did not know is that aside from the fact that Peeping Tom did not “kill” Powell’s career (it may have caused quite the stir, but he still made several pictures in both the UK and Australia; they just weren’t the massive hits that Powell had enjoyed in previous years), Powell had a directing partner in Emeric Pressburger for the most of his time in movies. Their production company was known as The Archers, Powell & Pressburger and both produced movies from 1943 to 1957, when the partnership was dissolved. However, both men would reunite for a few more movies that enjoyed limited success outside of the UK.

Let’s just say that Peeping Tom would not be the first time Powell and Pressburger would cause a stir when trying to make a film. When they focused on Colonel Blimp the newspaper comic strip character by David Low, guess who came calling and not with good news: then Prime Minister Winston Churchill. Him. It seems that his ego was bruised; the strip was known to mock those in higher positions of office and that was a matter that Churchill did not take lightly to. Powell and Pressburger deflected by stating that their movie had no relation to the strip but Churchill was undeterred. It seems that Churchill would make it his mission to stop funding, production, and the acquisition of actors of the stature of Sir Lawrence Olivier all in the name of what Churchill deemed an offensive movie.

But there’s more to the story — there always is. The screenplay that became the movie called for a friendship to develop between a German soldier and a British soldier during the Boer War. Such a friendship would last 40 years. England was smack in the middle of a war against Germany and of course, Churchill not only verbally attacked the film but the actor playing the German (Anton Holbrook).

The film prevailed, but not without the long arm of censorship which forced the movie to be trimmed down considerably and not released to the US public until after the war. The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp, as a matter of fact, did not get restored in its entirety until the 80s, and today, thanks to the efforts of Powell’s third wife, Thelma Schoonmaker and Martin Scorsese, Criterion Collection now can show the movie in its full glory, as it was intended.

Anyone who loves British movies ought to experience Colonel Blimp. It is a hoot and a holler in its first sequence reminiscent of what Monty Python would later do, but as its story moves forward in time, it starts revealing its true face, and what emerges is an exercise in altruism in both the central friendship of Charles Wynn Candy (Roger Livesey) and the German officer (Holbrook) who becomes his lifelong friend. In the middle we see Deborah Kerr, right before her arrival in Hollywood, playing three parts. She is, at least for two-thirds of the movie, the glue that holds the men together. In the first vignette, she is the woman who falls for Candy, but because his German friend has also fallen for Kerr, he gives her away selflessly… and never forgets her. In the second vignette, Candy will marry Kerr again as another character during the First World War but during the Second World War, Kerr plays Candy’s driver, and a spirited young woman with a passion for defending her country.

Viewers of Luis Bunuel’s cinema might see a wink thrown at his direction at casting the same actor in several roles but this may have been incidental; Powell had wanted Wendy Hiller to play the role that ultimately went to Kerr in the final installment, but Hiller was unavailable, so Kerr remained on set.

The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp is now available in its full running time in both physical DVD and via Criterion Channel and I suggest you take a look into it. This is quite a remarkable film, one of historic value, and if Churchill would be alive now he would probably have to agree.

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 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.

Greta Gerwig’s LITTLE WOMEN puts a modern spin into an old tale; The Safdie Brothers’ UNCUT GEMS is a tornado of electric energy with Adam Sandler at the center, controlling it all.

Consequence of Sound

[These last two reviews are coming in a bit late in the season since I saw both movies over the Christmas holidays and after that decided to take a bit of time off to gather myself into the New Year, so I do apologize for being late.]

I’m going to feel a little bit like a heel for saying this, but while I admire Greta Gerwig as both a writer and a director, I’m not sure that this was the turn she should have taken in her nascent career. I’m not saying that she can’t direct a period piece — this one is proof positive that she’s very capable of as the production values are extremely high and the movie itself looks equal parts fresh and vivid in its flashback scenes while also acquiring a more adult look as it delves into its more present, adult themes.

However, this is the fourth adaptation of the well-known novel by Louisa May Alcott. After seeing Katharine Hepburn, fresh off her (then, considered) groundbreaking debut in A Bill of Divorcement and her Oscar-winning performance in Morning Glory, paying Jo, and Elizabeth Taylor suitably playing the vain but sensitive Amy in the 1949 version, to the okay 1994 version in which Winona Ryder took on the Jo role and was flanked by Susan Sarandon to the left as Marmee and Kirsten Dunst (again suitably), as Amy, this one comes as more of a dare than an actual need to tell a tale.

Let’s be honest — I like Gerwig, and she has an entire career behind the cameras ahead of her, smiling down, filling her with deserved accolades. Ladybird was a massive success because it felt more authentic to Gerwig as the story felt unique to her and her alone. Remember Frances Ha? If you look closely, you can practically see the movie that Ladybird became in its final sequences. When Frances moves to New York to become a dancer and can’t seem to find her way, that in essence is Saorise Ronan’s character down to the details, and both movies are glued in spirit to Sacramento, which become focal points — one to the actress Gerwig herself became, and the other for her heroine.

I’ve come to realize that every director who needs to prove they’re capable of more has to direct either a period piece or an epic. It’s almost a rite of passage. Every blockbuster director had indie roots — even Sam Mendes and Christopher Nolan began in tiny features. Heck, look at Scorsese! So Gerwig, of course would want to fill her own shoes out, and retell Little Women but with a much more modern slant. If you think of it, the story has not aged well. However, Gerwig, a woman walking in a minefield made by men, makes her two main heroines reflections of resilience and adaptability that defies their own stature as women living in the 1800s. Yes, Alcott never married and by her own account was not into men — which explains Jo’s sudden decision to break with Laurie. However, Jo’s not a dimwit — she finagles a suitable amount plus percentages to make sure her book leaves her very well off and finds love in the end (because, again, let’s face it, like Tracy Letts’ character Mr. Dashwood, people love happy endings. Amy of course would be the one to come off shining like a rose — she more than any of the March sisters would have known the value of charm and smarts and marrying well (although she also manages, through Aunt March, to find her own niche in the art world). Even Marmee manages to get in a subtle modernistic spin on her own, voicing her opinions while remaining strictly on the side of the maternal.

Little Women is strictly fan service for the fans of Louisa May Alcott’s novel of the same name. It’s often beautiful to watch, and let’s face it: the women — the aforementioned Ronan, Florence Pugh (a standout, as usual), Emma Watson in a rather staid role and tepid storyline, and newcomer Eliza Scanlen as the doomed but strong in spirit Beth are all uniformly correct. Laura Dern makes her role into more than what the book Marmee was, Meryl Streep as Aunt March is, well, solid but predictable, and Timothee Chalamet, Bob Odenkirk, James Norton, (the redoutable) Chris Cooper, and Louis Garrel all have their moments. Another newcomer, Jayne Houdyshell as Hannah, also has some pretty solid moments. So there. It’s good, but mainly as fan service.

Adam Sandler in Uncut Gems

Adam Sandler, if you ever read this and I highly doubt you will since I’m not an Ebert or a Rex Reed, I just want you to know what you did in Uncut Gems was absolutely mesmerizing. Please — for the love of all that is good in cinema! — stop making those dreadful movies that are draining your talent dry and leaving you probably a few million richer, but destroying your craft as an actor. You’ve got so much to give as a quality, hi-octane performer. I’ve seen you in Punch-Drunk Love and The Meyerowitz Stories, New and Selected. You’ve got it in spades. If you don’t do anything else, stick with the Safdie Brothers who know movies. Those dudes aren’t afraid to tell compelling character studies that look almost like action movies where the plot hammers through the canvas and into your brain as though it needed to pummel you oijnto submission and leave you, dazed, wondering what the fuck did you just witness, but still begging for more.

What you did with Howard Ratner, a man who displays equal parts vulnerability, insecurity, and clueless levels of stupidity based on an addiction to the win, is really something that left me gaping. No wonder his buddies want to rip his face off, as he constantly juggles two women and a rock that he wants to bleed dry. This is the stuff of 70s cinema when antiheroes ruled and a good time often came with a heavy price. In his prime, Pacino would have probably done a louder version, closer to A Dog Day’s Afternoon, and while that’s not a bad thing, you did one better by keeping Ratner even keeled, and occasionally exploding in the center of the vortex that was his life.

That is all.

A Haunting Love Told in brushstrokes: Celine Sciamma’s Unforgettable PORTRAIT OF A LADY ON FIRE

Adèle Haenel in Portrait of a Lady on Fire. Imager from Youtube.

Every year the New York Film Festival brings about 30 new World, US, and North American premieres which get shuffled along with retrospectives, documentaries, and a new section, Projections, in which smaller films, usually by new and/or rising directors, also get their own screening, It’s usually a gargantuan task for someone like me to pencil in about one to two movies a day during a 17-day stint and often it’s just nigh impossible. Plus, with some of them colliding with others, and the Film Society’s rather tight schedule of screening a movie at least twice (that is, until demand becomes overwhelming and they are called upon to open more slots for viewers hungry for first dibs, well before the mainstream can get to it), it can sometimes be a losing battle and one has to throw in the towel and catch at least a portion of the festivities and, like in the case of Celine Sciamma’s new movie, wait for its proper release.

I was lucky. Portrait of a Lady on Fire doesn’t hit theaters until mid-February, 2020, which is criminal. I don’t know why it couldn’t have just stayed in theaters during December, when it made its one-week appearance for Oscar consideration. The screening I went to at the Angelika was packed to the gills — there was barely a seat left in the house where one could place ones drink and coat. That alone shows the power and allure this movie, Sciamma’s first incursion into period piece and a masterstroke at that, has had on its audience. I arrived about 20 minutes before seating, and already there were audience goers lavishing praise on the film, commenting on this being their second time viewing it to “capture the essence of art rendered on cinema”. It made me jealous; I sat there sipping my espresso thinking had I only made other choices, had I only not seen only wish I had seen it at the Alice Tully, but it conflicted with the screening of Liberté. [Not that I regret it.] Oh, well. Quel dommage.

Up to now, Celine Sciamma had been known almost primarily for her coming of age stories set in today’s time. None of her movies (Tomboy, Girlhood) hinted at the ambition, the sheer scope, that she showcases in her current movie (which is probably why I also may have decided against it). Reader, when Portrait of a Lady on Fire premieres next month you owe it to yourself, if you love movies as much as I do, to skip the graveyard of horror, action, and dull comedies to go see this movie alone. If you don’t even as much as see another one, that’s okay; all is forgiven. What Sciamma does with a deceptively simple story of tragic love goes far, far beyond what Todd Haynes did with his very own Carol (and I loved that movie to the point that it became my favorite for 2015).

Portrait of a Lady on Fire takes place at the end of the 1800s. Marianne (Noémie Berlant), a young Parisian artist, is hired to paint the portrait of Hëloíse, (Adèle Haenel), a young woman living in a remote area off the coast of Brittany who is betrothed to marry an Italian nobleman. The assignment itself isn’t complicated at all as this was the custom of affluent people about to enter into the institution of marriage; however, upon arrival, Marianne is notified that Hëloíse has been notoriously difficult to paint, as she doesn’t want to marry. Her mother (Valerie Golino) informs Marianne that she will then have to paint the portrait by memory alone and act as a companion to Hëloíse who must not be informed by any means that her portrait is being done.

Noémie Berlant as Marianne in Portrait of a Lady on Fire.

The story itself could hinge on this premise alone and for a while it does, but Sciamma is more attuned to slowly revealing a narrative in which both Marianne and Hëloíse start to reveal aspects of themselves, which naturally brings them closer together. When it becomes clear that Marianne is now starting to feel a fraud because a) Hëloíse is a woman she has to lie to, constantly, in order to glean as much visual information as she can in order to terminate her assignment, and b) feelings start to develop. How clever, an insightful, of Sciamma, to not only place two women in a time period when even the possibility of a same-sex attraction could be seen as criminal, but one that because of their isolation from glaring eyes starts to become stronger than the symbolic painting itself. Portrait of a Lady on Fire often looks and feels very Bergmanian, with characters talking with pauses, the camera placed at an angle from their faces that express oh-so much.

Image from IMDB.com

It also moves at a deliberate pace of a thriller even though there is really no mystery at all. Even so, Sciamma’s movie is drenched with the aura of portent (and deservedly so) that it will come across as a puzzle, most pointedly because of Hëloíse herself, who first gets introduced from the back, wearing a black hooded cape, and goes from pregnant, moody silences to sudden, jerky movements as when she attempts to rush towards the cliffs in a mock gesture of suicide (her sister, caught in a similar predicament, threw herself off and died). And what could be that brilliant white vision of Hëloíse that Marianne continues to have at regular intervals throughout the picture?

Dear reader, if you enjoy movies that move slowly, but with purpose, who reveal their cards one at a time, who don’t adhere to what you would be guessing should happen and take off into unknown territory which itself grounds the story in a romance steeped in fate, lush sensuality, and the sudden, overwhelming notion that this could all end in a crushing halt, then this is the movie for you to view, digest, and enjoy. The colors are alive in Sciamma’s movie in ways that make it look, itself, as painting in movement (as opposed to the use of hyperrealism to make every color an experience in Giallo). Adèle Haenel, a French actress (and Sciamma’s former girlfriend) has never been better, doing next to nothing but letting her own presence narrate the entire movie. Noémie Berlant carries the heavy dramatic load since she is almost always on screen, silently rendering her work of art with a meticulous delicacy that often seems as though she were “creating” her own vision of Hëloíse. Portrait of a Lady on Fire also contains one of the single most striking final shots –itself a work of art and I don’t mean to sound cliche — I have ever seen committed on film. It is so overwhelming in emotion that I felt as though I would drown in my own tears and choke from the pain I felt in my throat. If love were this deep, and rendered eternal through a clever positioning of a finger in a book… I would live forever.

I will call Portrait of a Lady on Fire one of France’s highest achievements in cinema and a movie that years from now will feature well up there with the movies of Renoir, Truffaut, Demy, and Tourneur. Go, go, go see it, you owe it to yourself to do so. It premieres February 14, 2020, in select cinemas.

A dysfunctional relationship and a woman’s emerging voice is the core of THE SOUVENIR.

THE SOUVENIR, UK / USA. Director: Joanna Hogg. Cast: Honor Swinton-Byrne, Tom Burke, Tilda Swinton. Screenwriter: Joanna Hogg. Language: English. Runtime 120 minutes. US Release date: May 17, 2019 (limited). Venue: Angelika Film Center, NYC, NY. Rating A +.

Joanna Hogg’s The Souvenir is what I call an anti-romance, and an anti-mystery that in its own way propels its lead character into a discovery of herself, even if it comes at a hefty emotional price. This is not your run-of-the-mill romance even though it is dressed to perfection to look that way. Hogg also keeps a certain distance, reducing scenes to their bare essentials, to inflict a sense of observation of events at a near-documentary level without actually being one. That she is able to convey the sheer imbalance of the onscreen relationship and make the heroine, based in her own experience, come through, scars and all, is a true feat of a cinematographer who is able to perform a perfect marriage of knowing the material at hand and being able to convey the essence in a clear, tone-perfect voice.

The story at its basest level is one we have seen many times. Julie (Honor Swinton-Byrne in her film debut, who happens to be the daughter of Tilda Swinton, also in the movie as her mother) is a naive young girl who aspires to be a cinematographer in 1980s London. She crosses paths with Anthony (Tom Burke), a dashing young intellectual who has the appearance of a romantic bad boy straight out of Lord Byron’s narratives. Julie can’t help but be taken in by the man, who is seductive, knows the power of words and manipulation, and reels her into a relationship that from the get-go shows all its cracks and warning signs. However, Julie, for reasons only she can recall, instead of saying no and walking out, inches in and receives Anthony with almost abject passivity, as if he was someone she was expecting.

What I found at first somewhat off-putting, then increasingly meaningful, was the way Hogg positioned her scenes, staged from a somewhat distant point of view, as if she herself was an observer through a time capsule and was trying to analyze what was transpiring through the increasingly dysfunctional relationship that is Julie’s and Anthony’s. How else would you look back to your own life and see the mistakes you made? Hogg never questions it, but simply, recreates it and lets Julie and Anthony clash. There is a distinctly lived-in quality to how they interact with one another. One can’t help but notice how close to life it evolves, and that makes for a visceral, uncomfortable viewing. How many of us have seen people who didn’t even look like they truly liked each other but somehow relied on the other for some form of gratification and whispered, “Why are these even together?” How many times have we met that person who was completely off, but we tossed logic out the window in lieu of ‘experience’? Julie does try to eliminate Anthony out of her life after he all but wrecks it and leaves her a mess, but inexplicably, he creeps back in for one last act of damage; when he’s gone, which is not a spoiler by the way — you know there is no other way for this to end but in a ripping of noxious ties — it comes off as a relief. The final shot, where Julie faces us, the audience, is priceless, and shows how much the character, who held a tenuous relation to herself, has finally come home.

Now, at a technical standpoint, Hogg could have trimmed some scenes from the finished product. At two hours and fractured narrative, The Souvenir does run its course and will test the patience of movie lovers. Compounding the lived in, almost lifted by the eyes of French director Eric Rohmer feel, there is a sensation one is watching a story set in the distant past. At no moment did I get a feel of the 1980s when the film transpires. My safe guess is that Hogg’s approach was to establish a timelessness to the entire package and thus cement it in a ground of repetition, where dysfunction happens, and when it does occur, it is almost casual — no flourish, no over the top drama, it just exists, and accrues little by little until the abuse of trust has become normalized. That, perhaps, led me to at first dislike the movie. It’s no wonder it bites, and does so with teeth a bit too sharp for its own good.

In terms of performances, Honor Swinton-Byrne is the early revelation of the year, and while her character often frustrates, she brings forth the evolution of Julie’s arc to its completion. Tom Burke is infuriating as the psychopathic Anthony — there were times I wanted to scream into the camera and drive him away from Julie. That speaks quite a bit of a performance. Tilda… well, shes Tilda. As for the film? It’s striking, confounding, unnerving, unsatisfying, frustrating, cold, observational, but also, a triumph of a diarist’s description of a problematic relationship with only one solution.

55TH NEW YORK FILM FESTIVAL: LET THE SUNSHINE IN

LET THE SUNSHINE IN
France
Director: Claire Denis
Runtime: 92 minutes
Language: French

Mostlyindies.com grading: C+

If there is something one can state about acclaimed French film director Claire Denis is that she definitely is unpredictable. Most directors tend to have a connected style in their storytelling, and that, one can say, defines the director’s body of work. With Denis, you can’t really say her pictures have a theme, a sense that one story somehow flows right into the other even when some of her greatest films (Beau Travail, 35 Shots of Rum, and White Material) have taken place in Africa. Her 2013 film Bastards (Les salauds) was a compelling black hole masquerading as film-noir; the movie reeked of pure, conscious evil that lay within its characters. It was almost a horror movie by way of the human exploitation (and particularly the subjugation of women to their masculine counterparts).

Her latest entry couldn’t be more divorced from the underbelly of society and is even more removed by anything she has done before. The poorly titled Let the Sunshine In (technically, the title should read Bright Sunshine Inside) is a light as a feather character study of Isabelle (luminously played by Juliette Binoche), an artist going from one relationship to the next, each one ending in what seems to be an ellipsis. When we first see her, she’s in the middle of having sex with a married banker, That doesn’t end well, predictably so. She moves right into the arms of an actor, and then into yet an unnamed man who sweeps her off of her feet in a club to the sounds of Etta James’ “At Last“. [I sensed some perverse irony in the selection of this title, and Denis of course, delivered.]

My one problem with the movie stems from the fact that other than a leisurely paced portrait of a woman who’s basically clueless about herself and what she wants, Let the Sunshine In never quite manages to intrigue you about Isabelle’s misadventures in a way that Woody Allen’s female-centric studies do. It takes the very late entrance of a certain French actor posing as one thing, but being something completely different, to neatly explain Isabelle to us, even when she herself remains totally and tonally blind. Perhaps this is what Denis’ movie is meant to be: a snapshot of a ridiculous woman, on a love treadmill, going nowhere. Maybe I need to see this odd little film again when it reaches US cinemas (a thing that seems meant for next year). Directors love to play games on their audiences and remain one step ahead. For now, my impression is that of a movie that didn’t quite deliver despite having a brilliant star on scene for 90 minutes, living, breathing, and failing to love.






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 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?






SONG TO SONG

SONG TO SONG
USA
Director: Terence Malick
Runtime: 130 minutes
Language: English

Movie:

3 out of 5 stars (3 / 5)

Nobody makes movies like Terrence Malick. This is a director that has provoked walk-outs and boos from the audience as well as praise from those who admire his work. Yours truly stands more in a safe middle — I can admire the work the man as director an artist created, fully knowing that most likely this would again fizzle with the critics and audiences alike, but I also realize that immersing his hand into a deeply impressionistic and even fragmented view of his players’ lives leaves me with the feeling that I perused through a glossy magazine filled with beautiful people, gorgeous settings, striking exteriors, and luminous evening scenes, and in the end, walked away with empty hands.

Malick is definitely not a director for all tastes, and I guess that’s okay because at some point every director decides he wants to have creative control of his own projects instead of delivering whatever it is studio executives want. Perhaps we have it all wrong and he’s the happiest man in the world, creating the stories he wants to create, narrating them with no apparent structure, letting his players wander, pose, and ultimately, deliver through the non-verbal. I personally love form and structure, but when I come into a Malick movie, somehow, all that fades away and I’m left with a sense of time and love lost, as if though I myself may have lived one of these barely remembered stories. If Malick had been directing films 100 years ago he would have a faced a more forgiving crowd: his is the cinema for the silent era, and his voice-overs could very well get substituted for title cards.

In a way, it’s fascinating, how he comes up with these simple stories and clips, bends, and twists them forwards and backwards until it no longer resembles anything linear, but an elongated fever dream. I’m tempted to compare Malick with the erotic writer Anais Nin because in his Song to Song, characters flow in and out, and back in again, and points of view change, letting us get a glimpse of things said, felt, remembered, done, regretted. A love triangle formed by Rooney Mara who goes from Michael Fassbender to Ryan Gosling like a ping pong ball eventually becomes fragmented when Fassbender and Gosling have an irrevocable falling out. Natalie Portman makes her entrance as Fassbender’s new girl, who suffers a rather cruel fate. Cate Blanchett, barely, fleetingly glimpsed at the start of the movie, shows up nearly 75 minutes into the film, and as Mara’s character dissolves her relationship with Gosling, she moves onto other grounds, only to reconnect with him again.

Fleeting images of Holly Hunter as Portman’s mother, Berenice Marlohe, Patty Smyth, The Red Hot Chili Peppers, and Iggy Pop pepper the movie, each leaving their own impressions of existence. Perhaps this is how life truly is. People come and go, perform their part in this variation of Malick’s Tree of Life (and especially Knight of Cups, as this could be its sequel), and in the end, we’re left somewhat unaffected and distant, as if all that we witnessed were from a safe place so as to not get too up close and personal when things get rather messy. In short, this is a pretty little picture, sometimes revealing, sometimes merely there, but a little bit on autopilot and as cold as those glorious homes that Malick loves to place his characters in.






A HOLOGRAM FOR THE KING

3.8 out of 5 stars (3.8 / 5)

 

Tom Hanks returns to the screen in this rather small, intimate affair as yet another businessman / negotiator having to travel to another country to present an offer to a person in power and hope they bite the bait. This time he’s not in any sort of danger as he was in Bridge of Spies or Captain Philips; if anything, the only thing he might be is sick, and then A Hologram for the King reveals another story underneath the surface, and in that I think, is where it succeeds.

A Hologram for the King starts with a clever scene: Alan steps in for David Byrne and becomes the performer for what seems to be a video for Once in a Lifetime, but is in reality the events of his own life: he’s lost his wife, his house, and is in the middle of a flight to Saudi Arabia where he will attempt to sell a communications system to the reigning king that uses holograms. That actual sales pitch keeps getting postponed due to a series of events that Alan can’t control. His office is located in a hot tent with no food and the bare minimum. No one seems to know where the king is. A Danish analyst (Sidse Babett Knudsen) offers a little breadth of freshness, but can’t really do much else. One morning, when Alan again is told that the king will not be in Alan decides to take the day off from work and alongside Yousef, a taxi driver he befriends (Alexander Black), go get a tumor he’s got in his back checked out at the nearest clinic. There he meets Zahra (Sarita Choudhury), who performs a biopsy. Their meet is pregnant with unspoken promise, but Alan is then seen trekking into Mecca and deep into the country alongside Yousef where he gets into a misunderstanding with a local man who takes a flippant comment very seriously.

Where does this all end? It doesn’t matter; the business pitch is more an excuse for Alan’s prolonged stay in Saudi Arabia, but it all works out for the better. If anything, I believe the true story happens when Alan and Zahra’s storylines come progressively closer, and then it all falls into place as Hologram turns into a romance — restrained due to cultural obligations, yes, but a romance nevertheless.

This is a rather gentle comedy that probably won’t make too much noise (it’s already left theaters in New York City and will probably play for the requisite one-week-only engagement throughout the country). Even so, A Hologram for the King is a subtle little movie about one man’s journey to love.