Archive | August, 2012

Bel Ami

28 Aug

 

 

Directors: Declan Donnellan, Nick Ormerod

Writers: Guy de Maupassant (novel), Rachel Bennette(screenplay)

Stars: Robert Pattinson, Uma Thurman and Kristin Scott Thomas

Motion Picture Rating: 15

Runtime: 102 minutes

 

No doubt the producers originally pitched this one as a ‘Dangerous Liaisons for a new generation’ so getting those type quotes from certain critics, mostly writing for women’s magazines, must have been satisfying. However, it’s a double-edged sword to be positioned alongside such a well-liked predecessor. In this case it is contextually helpful, putting Bel Ami in turn of the century Paris, but it is also dangerous to push Robert Pattinson as being in ‘the John Malkovich role’. And whilst the film-makers have conjured up good quality sets, costumes and music, it is in Pattinson that most of the problems with this film lie.

Pattinson plays Georges Duroy and the film is the story of his rise from lowly ex-soldier to high society mover and shaker via the beds of influential Parisian women. He starts with Christina Ricci, moves on to Uma Thurman and ends up with Kristin Scott Thomas whilst all the while pretending to be a savvy newspaper man. It is a simple story and was sub-titled by the author (Guy de Maupassant in 1885) as The History of a Scoundrel.

Having come from the Twilight franchise, it seems strange to me that Pattinson is allowed to turn up in decadent Paris ca. 1900 as a pale, sullen, and moody so-and-so. It’s almost Interview with a Vampire territory and it is far too close to his famous fanged alter ego for the good of this film. Pattinson in this carnation does not fit the period or the story. It is awful casting in, ironically, a bloodless film. Passion is nowhere to be seen and it is nonsense that the educated ladies of Paris fall for Georges Duroy with his stilted conversation, shabby clothes and strained smile. Pattinson is such a very long way from Malkovich. This is a poor film and does nothing for Pattinson and the rest of the cast, although it is good to see Christina Ricci back.

A Dangerous Method

23 Aug

 

Director: David Cronenberg

Writers: Christopher Hampton (screenplay), John Kerr (book)

Stars: Michael Fassbender, Keira Knightley and Viggo Mortensen

Motion Picture Rating: 15

Runtime: 99 minutes

 

 

This is a film, set ca. 1905 and based on true events, about the birth of psychoanalysis that is directed by David (Scanners, The Fly, Dead Ringers, and Crash) Cronenberg. It’s a strange combination although the studio point to the director’s most recent films (A History of Violence, Eastern Promises) as reference points. Cronenberg is not a likely candidate for this type of material and yet with it being so dry and serious, at least on the surface, it is his involvement that piqued my interest – the dark lord of body horror and sexual violence takes on Freud and Jung.

The cast is high quality with Mortensen as Freud, Fassbender as Jung and Knightley as Sabina Spielrein, a patient and then lover of Jung’s who becomes a highly regarded psychiatrist in her own right. The 3 actors all do well with Knightley particularly impressive in the more complex role. Sabina is an educated and outspoken young woman who suffered cruelty and abuse as a child that deeply affects her adult relationships. It is Jung that helps her to talk through, understand and to accept her past and the tense doctor-patient relationship is the core of the film. During that period Jung confides in and takes direction from Freud who acts as both a father figure and a teacher to him.

It is interesting to see Freud and Jung discuss and develop the theories on which modern psychoanalysis is founded. Their sparring underlines the size of what is still to be discovered in 1905 as well as the general suspicion and cynicism held of their immature profession. Has anything really changed? Well, the topics and patients portrayed here are not antiquated and the debates seem fresh enough (on the merits of repressing unsavoury feelings and so on).

In hindsight Cronenberg might not be such an odd choice as director. The story of Freud, Jung and Spielrein includes some trademark mental and physical exertions. There are a couple of spanking scenes (Jung on Spielrein) that certainly catch the 50 Shades of Grey zeitgeist. And Cronenberg is ably supported with great costume design and stunning location work (in Germany and Austria). Overall, this is an accomplished piece of film-making if not a truly spectacular film.

Headhunters

19 Aug

 

 

Director: Morten Tyldum

Writers: Lars Gudmestad, Ulf Ryberg,

Stars: Aksel Hennie, Synnøve Macody Lund and Nikolaj Coster-Waldau

Motion Picture Rating: 15

Runtime: 100 minutes

 

 

I lived in Stockholm for 2 years ca. 2007 and I travelled to Norway and Denmark for work during that time, but I must have been wearing blinkers. That’s if the recent deluge of Scandinavian crime fiction is to be taken as fact. This film is on the Norwegian side, based on the book by the king of airport paperbacks Jo Nesbo, but is produced by the Swedish team behind The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. As such it is true to much of what has recently been written and filmed in Scandinavia under the banner of ‘Nordic noir’ IE it is dark, gritty and violent with seemingly decent folks living very non-PC lives behind the doors to their hard wood homes.

In Headhunters the seemingly straight, if not likeable, main character is Roger Brown. He is an Oslo based recruitment executive with a beautiful blonde wife, expensive car and stylish home. Straight up he complains about his short stature and there is definitely a bitter edge to Roger so his side-line in art theft is not as surprising as it might be. The man has to pay for his high end lifestyle so why not steal from those genuinely rich people that he encounters via work, his wife etc? It is plausible, but what follows plot-wise is distinctly not as Roger steals from and then is chased by Clas Greve, an impressive and enigmatic executive for whom he is trying to find work.

The plot of Headhunters is over-the-top and hardly worth trying to explain here. Roger and Clas play cat and mouse, a number of people die, there are a few twists and turns and it all just about gets resolved at the end. There are a decent number of thrills and one particularly strong scene in a ravine after a car crash. The film moves quickly enough and the actors are solid, especially Aksel Hennie (Roger) who is really put through the mill by the film-makers. It is an entertaining movie with nods to the Coen brothers (Blood Simple, Fargo), but schlock does replace logic once too often for it to be labelled as either a classic thriller or a significant piece of Nordic noir.

Wanderlust

15 Aug

 

 

Director: David Wain

Writers: David Wain, Ken Marino

Stars: Jennifer Aniston, Paul Rudd and Malin Akerman

Motion Picture Rating: 15

Runtime: 98 minutes

 

 

I consider the 2008 film Role Models to be a weak comedy featuring Paul Rudd so I came into this one, with the same star and from the same writer director (David Wain) with low expectations. The fact that this one is produced by Judd Apatow did not heighten those expectations. Apatow was good back in the mid-2000’s (on films such as Anchorman, The 40 Year Old Virgin and Knocked Up), but more recently he has lost his touch (Funny People, Get Him to the Greek etc.) Apatow is proving to be a one trick pony and David Wain may join the stable if he keeps churning out weak comedies featuring Paul Rudd.

Here Rudd is married to Jennifer Aniston and the film starts with their New York dreams being crushed as he loses his job and Aniston’s latest piece of entrepreneurship crashes and burns. They have to vacate their “micro-loft” in the west village and head out of town. On the way to Rudd’s brother in Atlanta they stop in an odd b&b called Elysium that’s inhabited by a group of eccentric hippy types and run as a form of commune (with no doors, free love, plenty of mind-bending drugs and optional clothes). Rudd initially takes to the alternative lifestyle – “I feel I can breathe…” – but it takes more time for Aniston to drop her urban anxieties.

The opening 20 minutes of Wanderlust are funny enough and certainly had me smiling, but after that it is very thin gruel. There is one strange, but hilarious scene where Rudd, always happy to humiliate himself, psyches himself up with dirty talk in front of a mirror. Besides that scene, it is all very lightweight with supporting characters thinly drawn and with jokes borrowed from elsewhere. Aniston has little to work with and almost goes unnoticed. Whilst the humour is far from offensive it is also far from entertaining. Overall, the film has the feeling of a rushed TV pilot.

Margaret

8 Aug

 

Director: Kenneth Lonergan

Writer: Kenneth Lonergan

Stars: Anna Paquin, Matt Damon and Mark Ruffalo

Motion Picture Rating: 15

Runtime: 150 – 180 minutes

 

 

This film was made in 2005, but released in 2011. The long delay was the result of lawsuits and counter lawsuits by the studio, director, producers and others. An argument arose when the editing process started; the writer director Kenneth Lonergan apparently fought to release a 3 hour film, but that was not acceptable to his collaborators. The opposing views kept the film on the shelf until now. It was edited, at the very end, by Martin Scorsese with a 2.5 hour film getting a limited cinema run last year. What I saw on DVD was a 3 hour version that I believe was more or less Lonergan’s cut.

Ignoring the 6 year delay and the behind-the-scenes fighting, the film Margaret that I watched on my small screen was really very good. It is a long and unusual movie, but it kept me intrigued for the duration. The story focuses on Anna Paquin as Lisa Cohen, a young woman in New York who unwittingly gets involved in a tragic bus accident. That incident, a truly raw and emotional section of the film, is the catalyst for a slow paced, authentic and multi-layered urban drama.

Margaret has a European art-house feel to it (and that might be another reason that it was not rushed out by the studio). The camera work and the acting are very natural – often background conversations from ‘extras’ will spill over the main dialogue of the lead characters. The length of scenes is also very natural with the writer director taking his time to allow his actors to fully inhabit their parts. As I said, it is a long and unusual film because of this ‘alternative’ approach, but I was captivated by it and by Anna Paquin’s acting right in the heart of it.

Lisa is very hard to like, but Paquin gives everything to the part and that authenticity is powerful. After the bus accident Lisa meets the victim’s relatives and gets involved in a legal claim against the bus company. It is hard to fathom why she will not let the accident go, but it becomes clear that she revels in drama and in being centre stage. She is not pleasant because of this need, but she is also suffering from some form of post-traumatic stress. Lisa is disagreeable, but also lonely and confused and Paquin nails the complexities. For me the biggest disappointment of the lost 6 years of this film is that her amazing performance was not fully appreciated.

21 Jump Street

2 Aug

 

Directors: Phil Lord, Chris Miller

Writers: Michael Bacall (screenplay), Michael Bacall (story)

Stars: Jonah Hill, Channing Tatum and Ice Cube

Motion Picture Rating: 15

Runtime: 109 minutes

 

 

There is a nice early scene in this update of the Johnny Depp 1980’s TV show where police captain Ice Cube complains that ‘folks keep recycling shit from the’80’s’. That’s in keeping with the first half of the film that maintains a good balance of familiar, but smart comedy. Ice Cube gets some great lines in those early exchanges, but it’s the inter-play between Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum that’s most commendable. The co-stars spark nicely off each other and most surprising is just how likeable they are as the miss-matched rookie police officers.

Hill and Tatum were strangers at the same high school (with the former a stereotypical dork and the latter a stereotypical jock). During training at the police academy they came to rely on each other to make it through to graduation. Thereafter they become friends and colleagues whilst trying to get promoted away from ‘policing’ litterers and duck feeders in the local park. That back story and the early police scenes are very funny and the film continues to generate laughs as Hill and Tatum get enrolled in the 21 Jump Street undercover police programme.

The undercover work involves the two going back to high school, but this time around Hill becomes the more popular one whilst Tatum hangs out with the science geeks. It seems that school stereotypes aren’t what they were (with Tatum nicely blaming Glee for this odd turn of events).

The school stuff is well handled and there are some funny scenes. The laughs become less frequent in the final third and the drugs busting storyline resolves in a fairly stupid manner – like the film Pineapple Express, this starts with plenty of good laughs, but it does fall away towards the end. The likeable co-stars, however, just about save the film and it is mostly good fun. A sequel is already in the works so expect to see Hill and Tatum heading to college soon.

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