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|96 reviews in total|
'Gemma Bovery' is a clever contemporary re-working of 'Madame Bovary',
Flaubert's 19th century literary masterpiece about the love affairs of
a provincial doctor's wife. This version begins with a bookish baker
observing the arrival of a London couple in his Normandy town. He
immediately becomes obsessed with the charming Gemma, and starts seeing
parallels to his favorite novel as he catches sight of her flirting
with an aristocratic law student outside his shop. When the doughy
merchant suspects the affairs of the 'belle Anglaise' are spiraling
towards disaster, he attempts to save her from the sad fate of the
fictional heroine, but his interference only increases the
complications of her love life.
Director Anne Fontaine's film is finely balanced between comedy and drama, tending towards the latter, although the end product is closer to a fluffy confection than heavyweight fare. Gemma Arterton's piquant performance in the lead role holds the film together, as her straying spouse remains a sympathetic character despite the infidelities. Fabrice Luchini also turns in a satisfying portrayal of the busybody bread-maker, and their work is complemented by the entire cast, along with some luscious cinematography of the exquisite French countryside and the mouth-watering Ms Arterton.
Paul and Katie are a struggling actor/screenwriter - actress couple who
live in the Hollywood Hills while they try to catch a break in the
movie business. When a predatory actor/producer offers Katie the lead
role in his sado-masochistic sex film, she immediately starts agonizing
about the project's dubious sexual content and this douche-bag's clear
intention to seduce her. Needless to say, Paul feels threatened, but he
responds by ramping up his weed-smoking, slacker life-style and
flirtations with other women.
The two leads appear to have some talent, but repeatedly over-act as they fight a losing battle with the wooden writing and direction. The minor characters are mere caricatures, although Rosemarie Dewitt shines briefly as a pretentious acting coach in a cameo which requires minimal dialog. The arc of the story hovers obstinately around the lowest common denominator, until the final minutes when it plummets down another few levels towards the implausible sentimental conclusion. The film is exceptional only for its coy treatment of the main issue: sex. It has few laughs or real dramatic episodes - a more appropriate title would be: 'The Melodramatics: A Bummer'.
Kumiko is a lowly Tokyo office worker, deeply depressed and divorced
from reality, who lives in a squalid apartment with her pet rabbit
Bunzo. After watching a scene in the Coen Brothers' film 'Fargo', she
becomes convinced a money-filled briefcase has been buried by the side
of a road in rural North Dakota. When her boss gives her a credit card
to buy his wife a birthday present, she purchases a plane ticket to
Minneapolis, and sets off to find this treasure in the middle of
The film has similarities to Jim Jarmusch's 'Dead Man', and its trailer suggests Kumiko's journey is a metaphysical allegory of self-discovery, but that's just a red herring. After arriving in America, she's helped on her way by an older woman, a state trooper and a deaf taxi driver who receive little gratitude in return. These characters may or may not represent her mother, father, boss or Bunzo - but their banal exchanges don't provide any clues to the origin of her psychological issues. In the hands of a director like David Lynch, these encounters would have been full of dark humor, tension and symbolic meaning, but Kumiko's odyssey contains none of this. Writer/director Zellner gives his heroine minimal emotional range, and Rinko Kikuchi's acting skills are wasted on this glib fable. Many long minutes are spent watching her trudge through the snow dressed like a deranged shaman until she eventually reaches her destiny. There's a good idea hiding in this story, but it remains unrealized, and the predictable ending arrives just as terminal boredom becomes a serious problem.
After his release from a mental institution, a bi-polar ex-teacher
called Pat wants to reconcile with his unfaithful wife. She has taken
out a restraining order to prevent him from making contact with her, so
he enlists the help of a grieving young widow. The troubled Tiffany has
problems of her own - she's been using sexual promiscuity to deal with
the trauma of losing her husband - but she agrees to act as Pat's
go-between if he partners her in a dance competition.
Since 'Silver Linings Playbook' is a romantic comedy, Pat and Tiffany's unusual arrangement soon develops an emotional element. Jennifer Lawrence breathes her quirky brand of combative femininity into Tiffany's character, but it's not enough to save the film, since everybody else is playing the fool. Whenever she's on-screen, the story has vitality and interest, but instead of exploring this off-beat relationship between a couple of misfits, the narrative detours into a slapstick sub-plot about a small-time NFL gambling operation run by Pat's father. Before too long, all the film's potential has degenerated into formulaic sentimentality, until it eventually winds down into a tiredly predictable climax at the dance contest. Although it has been a huge box-office success, this play-book only has a scrap metal lining, and artistically it's just another wasted opportunity.
'Leviathan' has been described as a modern version of the Book of Job,
but this is a bit of a stretch. The film has many variations from the
famous Old Testament fable, as it portrays how the crooked mayor of a
hard-scrabble coastal community conspires to steal a desirable plot of
land from a mechanic called Kolya. The latter's struggle to preserve
his home, livelihood and family leads to a series of increasingly
serious setbacks at the hands of the venal bureaucrats, lawyers,
priests, police and hired thugs who aid the mayor.
The acting, cinematography, editing and directing are almost flawless, and 'Leviathan' deserves much of the critical acclaim it has received. Its weakness lies in the grim misery of the narrative arc - and the darkness becomes absolute when the motive for the mayor's land grab is finally revealed. In addition, Kolya is not a particularly likable protagonist, and most of the sympathetic characters seem defeated by their circumstances, the harsh environment and the ever-present temptation of vodka. It seems as if the corruption of Putin's Russia has crushed everybody's spirit, as officially sanctioned thieves relentlessly prey upon those who are struggling to survive in this provincial backwater.
Although previous movies haven't set the bar very high, 'Mr Turner' is
probably the most authentic biopic about the character and methods of
an artist. Director Mike Leigh makes no attempt to string together a
conventional biographical account of Britain's greatest landscape
painter, JMW Turner - the fragmented narrative simply observes his
interactions with aristocratic patrons, industrial entrepreneurs,
proletarian mistresses, fellow artists, critics - and most importantly,
his beloved father.
Turner was born and raised as the working class son of a London barber, and the film depicts a peripatetic workaholic existence from stately home to brothel, then back to his studio and on to the cheap lodging houses which skirted the wild landscapes that he loved to paint. The painter's early work was relatively conventional as he mimicked the styles of some illustrious predecessors, but during the latter part of his life - financially secure and with his reputation established - he embarked on a series of ambitious paintings that anticipated the techniques of artists who arrived on the scene several decades later. Turner's coarse manners and social awkwardness are probably exaggerated for dramatic effect in this portrayal, but that's a minor gripe. At the center of the film is Timothy Spall's fine portrayal of this eccentric virtuoso going about the business of being an artist.
Once upon a time Ridley Scott was an innovative director of
ground-breaking projects, but those days are long gone. There's nothing
new or remarkable about 'The Counselor', which chronicles the trials
and tribulations of a lawyer who goes into business with a bloodthirsty
Mexican drug cartel in the US Southwest. The film has an star-studded
cast and a screenwriter with a big reputation as a novelist, but the
end result doesn't add up to anything better than a routine suspense
thriller masquerading as a cautionary tale.
As far as plot is concerned, the corrupt attorney soon gets out of his depth amongst the career criminals, wicked women and a couple of cheetahs, but there's little reason to care about the fate of such worthless people. Whatever sympathy one might have considered wasting on these generic characters soon disappears when they start making pompous speeches to one another in between the obligatory shoot-outs, betrayals, kidnappings and assassinations. Scott tries to glamorize this community with couture clothing, expensive cars, weird sex fetishes and gruesome deaths by decapitation, but 'Breaking Bad' did it all far better for a fraction of the budget.
'Manhattan Romance' begins with film-maker Danny embarking on a
documentary about relationships, which requires him to interview
various acquaintances and strangers about their love lives. One of them
is a manipulative neo-hippie tease called Theresa, who allows him to
give her topless massages while she talks about her open relationship
life-style. Her flirting has Danny anticipating detours into amorous
territory, but she persistently puts him off with vague excuses. In
between these frustrating encounters, he visits his friend Carla to
film her discussing her lesbian romance. When he complains to her about
his unrequited desires for Theresa, Carla offers only amused eye-rolls
and muted sympathy in response.
The film is Tom O'Brien's second feature as writer/producer/director/actor, and his direction and writing gives the excellent cast space and material to create intriguing characters. The story takes some interesting twists and turns as Danny zigzags between his real life connections and his project. The boundary between these two zones becomes blurred, leaving Danny increasingly confused about the true nature of his own relationships, until the narrative eventually unfolds to a satisfying conclusion. When all is said and done, 'Manhattan Romance' delivers some sophisticated entertainment that is both playful and poignant.
'Memento' and 'Inception' had some problems, but their ideas stretched
the imagination. 'Interstellar' only delivers the stale bombast one
would expect if a puffed-up Batman director thought he could eclipse
Kubrick's '2001' with a puerile adventure story. Christopher Nolan's
new film begins badly and steadily declines as its long-winded prologue
introduces the stereotypical elements of a Steven Spielberg/Norman
Rockwell Sci-Fi co-production - a widowed ex-astronaut farmer, his
chiseled jaw, a feisty daughter, a crusty grandpa, a dying Earth, dust
storms, paranormal activity, baseball, cornfields - and lots of corn.
After about an hour - which seems like two - a valiant crew lifts off in search of a planet to save humanity. Once they've journeyed through an intergalactic wormhole, the implausibility dimension expands to cosmic levels of absurdity. Scientific hocus-pocus is stirred into the sentimental sludge as gigantic tsunamis, deranged astronauts, spaceship chases, time travel tomfoolery and black hole baloney eventually lead to a schmaltzy Hallmark-style climax. The visual effects are above average, but far short of awesome. When all is said and done, the film's ludicrous self-importance and mawkishness leave one rooting for humanity's extinction.
'Fort Tilden' is the tale of a ten-mile road trip by a couple of
tiresome Brooklyn trust fund brats, Harper and Allie, who head for the
beach to hook up with a pair of charmless dudes. This airhead odyssey
comprises no more than mundane exchanges and minor fiascoes involving
various acquaintances and strangers, so their adventure soon turns into
a plodding marathon by bicycle, cab and foot. Although the film is
clearly intended to be a comedy, it's short on laughs, wit or interest.
Any idea that these two spoiled simpletons could become Indieland's new
'Thelma and Louise' is the project's biggest joke.
The actresses struggle gamely with the pedestrian material, but their characters' whiny griping and feckless behavior leaves one hoping a truck will squash them into roadkill. When they finally meet their romantic prospects on a dismal windswept seashore, the encounter is just another farce in a series of screw-ups.
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