Tag Archives: romance

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.






MAGGIE’S PLAN

4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

 

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She first charmed audiences in her splendid, devil-may-care turn in 2013’s Frances Ha, annoyed everyone with her haughty, faux-deep Manhattan socialite in Mistress America just last summer, and hot on the heels of that she’s playing another apparently slightly dim-witted part in a movie that offers a heck of a lot of complications from the very same people she not-so-inadvertently hurt through a sexual tryst gone riot.

It is my belief that Greta Gerwig is by far one of the greatest comediennes I’ve seen in recent years and she’s bound to get some kind of Oscar eventually, for A Performance. Her character, Maggie, a woman somewhat not too distant from her more endearing Frances from the aforementioned film finds herself after a mix-up in the billing department from the school where she teaches (she received a colleague’s paycheck, not that she’s complaining per her words) falling into a rather heated affair with him. That colleague, John, happens to be played by Ethan Hawke, a man trying to write a novel while living in hell with his much more intellectual and smothering wife Georgette (an over-the-top, hysterical Julianne Moore essaying a ridiculous French accent in bright pink colors). Before you can make a quick dash for the restroom, Maggie and Ethan have shacked in, he’s left his wife, and she, who had made a decision to become a single mother prior to all these events, now finds herself as being the breadwinner in this twosome while he not only continues to write, but keeps cloyingly in touch with the ever-present Georgette.

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So, one day she decides, she’d out, had enough, the bloom is off this rose if there ever was one. John is just sloppy seconds and needs to go. Ergo, a plan to return to sender starts to form . . . .

One of the things I loved about Maggie’s Plan is how sane it manages to look while the entire premise is just a little left of crazy. No one exactly blows their top — oops, wait, no, there is one scene where this happens, and it’s to die for — but it’s comedy that’s just bubbling under the surface waiting for moments to surface. Everyone in Maggie’s Plan is top notch and a little insufferable — I certainly wouldn’t want to be in the same room with any of these characters, but that’s what’s so great about screwball: no one is rooted in any sense of reality and neuroses fester like dangerous mold. Predictable, however, this movie is not, and if you can’t not only laugh at the mess Maggie and, well, John selfishly create, you’ll laugh at the backlash that is the film’s second half.

Maggie’s Plan releases May 20th.

Seen originally in October at the 53rd New York Film Festival.






THE MEDDLER

The Meddler:

4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

 

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She’s the friendly woman not averse to dispensing motherly advice to anyone who will listen. She’s often helping other people in need, even to the point of giving them expensive gifts that they could eventually use. She talks to anyone who will talk to her. She radiates a comfortable warmth, and yet, she’s alone. And lonely.

What a wonderful picture The Meddler is. It’s not often that I get to see a movie that will show me someone I could easily relate to, and also show me someone I could feel repulsed about, and that is what I experienced while at the Angelika. Susan Sarandon starts the movie in pure Earth-mother form as Marnie and stays there, warm, open, not a mean bone in her, a mass of smiles and open gestures, wanting the best for her daughter Lori (an equally excellent Rose Byrne) who’s trying to make it as a screenwriter in Hollywood. When the movie starts she’s apparently narrating the events of what will be the film, when in reality, she’s just leaving Lori a voice message, albeit a long, long, very long one. [I know mothers like that; I had a mother who did this to me on a regular basis. Yes, it drove me mad, but more about that later.]

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Lori, on the other hand, has just ended a relationship with her boyfriend Jason and doesn’t exactly want any kind of help from Marnie, but Marnie can’t seem to take no for an answer and is, as a matter of fact, completely oblivious to Lori’s need for independence. Another film might have made this a rather creepy picture of a clingy mother and her smothered daughter, but The Meddler is different. It presents to you, the viewer, a sense that this is what you will be witnessing — with the requisite blown-out argument somewhere near the climax of the film, something reeking of 80s sensibilities. Nope. The Meddler brings that event much closer to the start, and Marnie, while shaken, doesn’t let this get to her: she gets right back on her feet and while Lori is in New York securing a job, Marnie has her own adventures where she insinuates herself into the lives of others who see her as a blessing rather than a nuisance.

And then she meets a man (well, two, one played for laughs by Michael McKeon), a former cop who now moonlights on the set that one day she wanders into (of which she becomes a part of in a cute film within a film). Zipper, as he’s named, played by J.K. Simmons, openly flirts with her old-school style, and wait until you see how he later in a scene where he takes Marnie to his humble place and introduces her to his chickens (who have a penchant for Dolly Parton covers, go figure) expresses falling smack on his face in love for her. You would love her, too — she’s that kind of woman.

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Eventually, The Meddler manages to address that all this being nice to others is really just a ruse for Marnie to negate her own feelings, and here is where the movie starts to reveal layers that an ordinary sitcom-intensive plot would have avoided. Marnie is truly a helpful person, and wherever she goes she leaves an enormous smile on people’s faces, but she’s also lonely. She misses her husband. And she can’t seem to reach out to Lori.

This is a wonderful movie to watch and I could completely identify with it. Having lost my own mother five years ago to a heart condition, I now miss our arguments, one trying to up the other, how she would very much like Sarandon “meddle” with my life even though I would tell her, “Mom, for Christ’s sake I’m a grown man. I’m 40!” Nope–that would fall completely on deaf ears. To her, I was a kid, and I was her boy. How I miss that.

The Meddler is as gentle as it is deep and everyone has their moment to give performances that shine and shed light to others. It’s a wonderfully funny little picture that benefits from its three leads and never veers too far into sentimentalism. Sarandon has never in my eyes been better than she is here, playing the character I came to know as Mom and giving her a fully-blown personality, loving and carefree.  It’s a picture of finding love and acceptance within ourselves, finding the good within ourselves, a picture of helping others whom we encounter, and how wonderful is that when it happens?






TUMBLEDOWN

3.5 out of 5 stars (3.5 / 5)

 

Hunter Miles, like his real-life counterparts Kurt Cobain, Jim Morrison, and Janis Joplin, met an early demise at the prime of his life, and while he only produced one album, it caused such an impact among music lovers that they make pilgrimages to his grave and leave tokens of remembrance. Hannah (Rebecca Hall), his widow, has been somehow left in suspended animation: frozen in time and grief, but surviving regardless. She’s seeing a lumberjack (Joe Manganiello) as a form of sexual escapism while trying to write a book about Miles. What she doesn’t yet know until the call comes, is that someone else is interested in writing about Miles, and he may have a more objective point of view than hers.

The person in question is Andrew (Jason Sudeikis). A pop-culture professor, he’s aware of Miles’ influence and thinks there is a good book here. Conversations with Hannah both on the phone and in person turn immediately confrontational: they have different points of view, and it looks like the book will be buried even before the first sentence.

She decides to give it another swing, but their relationship alternates between professional and antagonistic. It’s understandable and Sean Mewhaw draws a solid study of a woman’s controlled pain confronted by the impending catharsis of a biography, but I suspect that Hannah’s cagey behavior hides the fact that she actually likes to be around Andrew, more than she would care to admit. The problem — and it’s one that Andrew himself will ask her at a point during the movie — is that he can’t possibly compete with perfection. And Hunter Miles was precisely that.

Tumbledown alternates with gentle comedy and drama well, reaching a solid, satisfying balance that will please women looking for a rom-com that’s not too sappy. Rebecca Hall continues to essay characters with repressed inner conflicts as she did in A Promise. Jason Sudeikis is quite good here, removed from the sillier comedies he’s done, and he fills his leading man shoes believably, with sensitivity. Perhaps the removal of some unnecessary characters thrown in for some quasi-romantic tension (Diana Agron, Joe Manganiello) would have sparked a two-character plot about discovery. Even as such it’s a good little variation on the opposites attract. Watch for Blythe Danner and Griffin Dunne in small, supporting roles that balance Rebecca Hall perfectly.

On Amazon Instant Video and iTunes






VALLEY OF LOVE

Hooked on Film rating:

4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

Huppert / Depardieu. Two giants coming together for the first time in over 30 years to tell a sad, sad story.
Huppert / Depardieu. Two giants coming together for the first time in over 30 years to tell a sad, sad story.
The first time you see Huppert, it’s from behind, walking down a sidewalk towards some destination. She’s wearing a light summer dress and pulling on a carry-on in what reveals itself to be a desert resort. Her entire body language shrieks disapproval, malcontent. Later on, we see her fumble to get a connection on her phone, barely even trying to establish any conversation with the American guests who approach her, and even disapproving of the food [“They call this a soup?” she snarls at a can of dried ramen.] She’s clearly not happy to come here. Soon, we’ll know why.

When we first see Depardieu, your heart breaks in two, and I’ll tell you why. This is the man of great physical stature, boyish face with unusual looks who brought enormous presence to his films with just an entrance. Not that he doesn’t do so here, but when you see just how much he’s aged and gained weight, you’ll see how shocking it is, that he’s almost shuffling his entire upper body, completely disproportionate to his lower body,  to  meet Huppert (not that she’s too happy to see him). Age is an unforgiving curse, and while Huppert only demonstrates a slight aging of her neck, her skin is a map of freckles, and her limbs are now those of a frail woman.

Even so, there is love between these two, who play versions of themselves. Following a simple plot heavy on dialogue that could have been written by Marguerite Duras at her most cathartic, Guillaume Nicloux directs these two French giants to perfection, having them reveal only what we need to know, in bits and pieces, scene after scene, a timed release of what lies beneath. This isn’t an ordinary meeting of a former man and wife. This is something completely different, and once elements of surrealism reminiscent of an Antonioni film film sets in, one is no longer sure what is true, what is false, and where is this going.

Gullaume Nicloux, who also experimented between reality and fiction with his 2013 movie The Kidnapping of Michel Houellebecq, sits back and grants both actors ample ground to inhabit their roles and brings only a truly eye dropping cinematography to enhance scenes fraught with tension, stillness, and the vastness of the desert into play. It’s a gamble that pays off: both Depardieu and Huppert completely complement each other without risking parodying themselves. She emotes in high and low notes, going into nervous tangents that can barely contain her rage and disappointment and sheer hatred for the place she’s in. 

Depardieu, on the other hand, is quieter. He let’s her have her cake and eat it, and reveals but very gradually, a softer, more caring man underneath his gruff appearance.  Nicloux directs him ever so subtly for comic perfection when an American asks him for his autograph, having recognized him, Gerard Depardieu, from other movies, and Depardieu signs “Bob de Niro” before shuffling off back to Huppert. Later on, one sees his stoic pathos while reading the letter that has reconnected him with Isabelle, and then the beginnings of fear while encountering a strange girl who seems to know more than she reveals. 

What does come clear is that both of them have deep regrets and unresolved wounds involving the writer of the letter and I don’t wish to disclose too much because with these movies it’s best to come in with a naked mind. Both characters will have some unexpected emotional peaks that will leave them shaken. The crux of the action is, can they survive it.

Valley of Love works as a variation of the stations of the cross, with its two leads revisiting the past while they veer closer to a significant revelation that will redeem or destroy them. It’s a devastating story of loss and the acknowledgement that this loss runs deeper than they can tolerate. Some missteps involving Americans most likely serve as a reminder of how intrusive we can be as a whole but other than that, this is a tragedy that unfolds in stages, and extends itself to the edges of the desert.