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Strange Days (1995)
STRANGE DAYS is a distinctively one-off studio extravaganza
Ms. Bigelow's fifth feature, STRANGE DAYS is written by her ex-husband James Cameron and co- writer Jay Cocks, which was an abysmal commercial disaster upon its release, its entire North American revenue only managed to collect one-sixth of its hefty 42-million price tag, which consequently put her director career on hold until THE WEIGHT OF WATER (2000). But in recent years, this 2-and-a-half-hour long dystopian cyberpunk has been justly touted as an under- appreciated mainstream artifact which pairs an unconventional interracial leads in the near-future where the world is cloaked by the turn-of-the-millennium panic and paranoia.
Doomsday is coming, the story takes place in L.A. in the last two days of 1999, Lenny Nero (Fiennes, convincingly shedding his British accent), a former LAPD officer, now is a purveyor of an illegal virtual reality technology called SQUID, which is brilliantly prescient of its script written 20- odd years earlier, also provides a fillip for the technology team to revolutionize a tailor-made POV- shot camera, which in turn introduces a highly-voyeuristic and visceral experience to whoever puts on that sprawling helmet meanwhile, leaves audience a jag of vicarious thrill. Lenny hustles his commodity in seedy bars, reminisces in the clips of good old days with Faith (Lewis), his ex- girlfriend, a punk singer who jolts him for Philo Gant (Wincott), a sadistic, shady music industry bigwig, and only gods know why!
The plot entails a heady mix-bag of murder, rape, rogue cops, racist hate crime and double- crossing, which pressingly couples a lovelorn, past-lingering Lenny with his limousine-driving, SQUID-repelling, forward-thinking friend Mace (an ass-kicking, sinewy Bassett in dreadlocks), who many a time comes to Lenny's rescue, thus, Bigelow has stimulatingly thrusts an anomaly in the hackneyed odd-couple mode, Mace and Lenny, a black-colored heroine vs. a white-skin antihero, a unique pair driven into the mystery and danger by their respective attachments - one is manifest, the other is latent; one is mired in the past while the other beckons a brand new future.
Bigelow execution and Cameron's storyline thrive on a daring exploitation of violence and female- abuse, liken SQUID's strung-out mental effect to drug addiction (on a lesser note, the whole gambit can be replaced by videotapes and the story would go exactly the same way, minus the Sci- Fi appeal), and expertly concoct a grandiose milieu of an apocalyptic pandemonium. Ralph Fiennes mingles his genteel characteristic with squarely sympathetic vibes even he sticks to the wrong choice all the way (save the ending), a battered SQUID-addict doesn't care for his own safety but a lost soul doesn't need his extrication; Angela Bassett counteracts Fiennes' self-destructive inclination with her towering brio and incredible stamina, justly earns both a kiss from the one she has been secretly in love with for a long time and audience's extolment in the end of the day. Juliette Lewis gives thrilling live performances as a punk-head (with some gratuitous nudity as well), which is certainly in her wheelhouse. Lastly, the whodunit disclosure in the third-act fails to ferment transcendent empathy like the sub-genre's top-dog BLADE RUNNER (1982) has achieved, not the least because Tom Sizemore in that God-awful wig is really a turn-off, on other grounds, STRANGE DAYS is a distinctively one-off studio extravaganza, it defies the mass's expectation, and receives an unwarranted cold-shoulder, but any at rate one must give some credits to its boldness and finesse.
El bab el maftuh (1964)
still appeals as an aptly-produced ethnic curio glistening with its progressive, yet more urgently relevant message
An unmistakably female-liberating dissertation made by the late awards-winning Egyptian filmmaker Henry Barakat, THE OPEN DOORS is headlined by Barakat's regular leading lady Faten Hamama, aka. the Lady of the Arab Screen, who fearlessly takes up the gauntlet to plays its heroine Leila, a modern-thinking, rebellious girl emerging from a middle class background, and Ms. Hamama has to act a dozen year junior to her real age since Leila has just graduated from high school in the beginning of this shackles-breaking story.
Set in the 50s when Egypt is ever-so-confined by the patriarchal sexism and insurgent political scramble, the film opens with Leila dauntlessly plunges into a student protest and steals the limelight with a fervid feminist manifesto from the school principal. But when she returns home, what awaits her is the lash and scolding from her severe father, and she has zero chance to defend herself but for a passive hunger strike in the aftermath. No sooner comes the comfort from her cousin Isam (Youssef) who lives upstairs than her glumness dissipates, but their budding romance meets with a blunt halt when Isam morphs into a weak-minded slouch beaten by his own base impulse. That's when Hussain (Selim) aptly comes into the picture, a friend of Leila's brother with a revolutionary persuasion, who is willing to fight for a good cause, including rekindle Leila's affection even when she declares that she is an official non-believer of love after the disappointment from Isam.
The plot meanders into another phase when Hussain conveniently goes to study abroad, leaving Leila mulling over her mixed feelings. A wake-up call bleeps when Leila pliantly condones the arranged marriage with her philosophy professor Dr. Fouad (Moursy), a stern man who can ply her a stable life, but is knee-deep in his backward view reckoning wife merely as a biddable and serviceable object, on top of that, she doesn't love him at all. At that moment, Hussain again precisely resurfaces as a guiding light, a right choice for her to make the one most important decision of her life in the emotionally buttressed finale, to catch that train and pursue what her heart desires as a freestanding woman, once and for all.
Mingled with unrest of Egypt's touchy milieu of that time, Leila's inner conflict, the perplexity of her nascent independence and the indecision of her true feelings, all have been routinely laid out with considerable flair, attendant with an effusive score dutifully pointing out where should audience anticipate on the emotional gamut apropos of the narrative directions. Ms. Hamama's performance is highly absorbing to say the least (although she never fully exudes that kind of effervescence and impressionability pertaining to Leila's youthful age), but the same cannot be referred to the patchy supporting cast, some of which is either unexpectedly wooden or risibly playacting. For all that, Baraka's feature still appeals as an aptly-produced ethnic curio glistening with its progressive, yet more urgently relevant message.
Coherence manages to spread out a cerebral sea-changing revelation, or at the very least, a very ghost of it
Filmmaker James Ward Byrkit's light flyweight feature debut fits intelligently in the low-budget indie Sci-Fi scene on the US soil after the millennium, with prominent precedents like works of Shane Carruth (PRIMER 2004, UPSTREAM COLOR 2013) and Richard Schenkman's THE MAN FROM EARTH, 2007).
Shot sequentially in 5 days, almost exclusively in Byrkit's own house, COHERENCE has an ensemble of eight (all Byrkit's friends), who was separately given their own notes to indicate what they would do in the subsequent scenes, then they would just improvise their dialogues and actions without really knowing neither what exactly was happening, nor what their co-stars would react, barring the co-writer Alex Mangian (plays Amir), as the mole among them. This unconventional tack effectively enlivens an organic ferment crackling with confusion, confrontation, frustration, delusion and red-herrings (a granola empath also believes in chemical medicines, lol!), they are not brainiac geeks, but ordinary folks enwrapped in the bizarre parallel realities caused by quantum decoherence owing to a comet buzzing around close to the earth surface.
Thankfully, Byrkit doesn't dwells on the aberrant phenomenon's theoretical nitty-gritty, as the more rarefied and esoteric PRIMER has done, instead he precipitates the hapless characters to make more decisions to further complicate and multiply their different universes (through variant dices and random items they choose to single their house out among numerous identical others), while past secrets, concealed affections are timely teased out to keep messing with their scrape, until one of them, Emily (Baldoni) steps up as a decisive force, who is disillusioned by her current reality - the strained relationship with her boyfriend Kevin (Sterling), the career setback as a dancer, and surreptitiously sneaks out to find an alternative universe where things haven't been influenced by their mind-boggling discovery, wishes for a refresh start.
It is eyebrow-raising to see that as soon as they realize the existence of their doppelgängers, the knee-jerking reaction of Mike (Brendon), a former TV actor and alcoholic, is to kill the other self, as if wanton killing is the solution for everything. Why not just talk to another you and try to get a bigger picture of the whole idea? Where is one's natural curiosity? Nope, its $50,000 budget cannot afford to pull off that kind of special effect, thus, as a default choice, such a self-loathing inclination actually has been carried out in the final act, wound up with a suggestive twist in the next morning, when the comet has gone outbound to afar, there are two Emily stuck in this universe, which means there will be a distressed Mike futilely wandering around to look for his Emily in another reality. The curious thing is what happens next then? A sequel on the drawing board?
COHERENCE's economical structure (not the cheap lightning or its sometimes vertiginous camera-work) precedes Paolo Genovese's acclaimed drama PERFECT STRANGERS (2016), both take place where a group of close-friends are enjoying their dinner while something usual is happening in the sky. Only the latter is a killjoy moral lesson sparked by a seemingly harmless game, which they all wish it had never happened; whereas the former, inventively juggles with the abstruse concept and trivial melodrama, manages to spread out a cerebral sea-changing revelation, or at the very least, a very ghost of it.
Café Society (2016)
a marvelous exemplar of form-over-substance making
This year's Woody Allen's ritually annual dish charts a humdrum Bildungsroman of a young Jewish American Bobby Dorfman (Eisenberg) in both L.A. and the Big Apple during the 1930s, where in the former, he arrives to seek opportunity through nepotism from his well-heeled uncle Phil (Carell), a high-level talent agent in Hollywood, but instead, he falls in love with Phil's comely secretary Veronica, aka. Vonnie (Stewart), and vice versa, only, she is also the other woman involving with a married man (a knowing coup de maître plays out wonderfully albeit being an ever-familiar cliché), who will offer her something she can hardly resist, so it takes a heartbreak to grow up, as a result, what doesn't kill Bobby only makes him stronger.
Back to New York where resides his family, Bobby works for his mafia brother Ben (Stoll in an ill- fitted wig) to run a fancy nightclub, and improbably excels in his job, effortlessly greets and mingles with the club's upper-class clientele, Bobby's transmogrification from self-effacing to gregarious is stunning, however the process is casually skipped, also he successfully woos a stunning-looking divorcée Veronica Hayes (Lively), soon they marry and have a daughter. But when Vonnie visits the club with her husband, they finally meet again and admit their undying affections towards each other, but against the well-honed romantic motif, they are not above to strike up an extramarital affair, which leaves the movie's abrupt cessation mostly like an anticlimax, maybe Allen is in his wits' end to render a more resonant finale because of his habitual working ethos, and he just cannot afford to be slowed down even in his 80s, the timing is ticking.
Eisenberg impresses with a vivid imitation of Allen's mannerism and neurotic inflections, and Stewart also remarkably shows her ranges in a character designed with both stereotyped materialistic pursuit and scintillating congenital charm, plus, she and Eisenberg exude great chemistry together (the third time is a charm!). It is invigorating to see Ms. Berlin (the daughter of Elaine May) continue radiating her flair on the silver screen after decades of absence (she is magnificent in Kenneth Lonergan's MARGARET 2011), and the Jewish tropes constitute a great proportion of the film's laid-back levity, but the corpse-cementing scene seems to too morbid after being repeatedly presented, and the subplot revolving around Ben, his criminal activity and his comeuppance doesn't nearly occupy Allen's concoction after all.
Actually, this picture heralds the very first collaboration between Allen and Italian DP maestro Vittorio Storaro, and the outcome is strikingly entrancing, its glossy environs (first the alluring orange template in L.A., then a grandiose extravaganza of New York's café society atmosphere) meshes fluidly with the jazz-infused soundtrack and Allen's own mock-serious voice-over, which unwittingly proves itself as a marvelous exemplar of form-over-substance making.
Steel Magnolias (1989)
this female-skewing small-town melodrama hits the right spot as a life-affirming motion picture which appeals to a much more overlooked demography
Based on Robert Harling's play, which is inspired by his own life story, the film version of STEEL MAGNOLIAS is directed by the schmaltz-brewing old-timer Herbert Ross. Emboldened by a pronounced female-centred cast, its narrative gaily situates in a Louisiana parish, where a palsy- walsy clique of (all-white) residents builds up rapport and strong support during the twist of fate, befalls the central Eatenton family.
The film starts from the perspective of an outsider, an gauche young woman Annelle Dupuy (an uglified Hannah) arrives in town on the wedding day of Shelby (Roberts), the eldest daughter of M'Lynn (Field) and Drum Eatenton (Skerritt, a delightful comic relief), to work for Truvy Jones (Parton) in her beauty salon. Soon it turns out that Shelby suffers from type 1 diabetes, which implies that pregnancy will subject her life into great danger. If the couple wants children, adoption might be a wiser option, but no, that never gonna happen, Shelby is opinionated in her regressive determination to have a child of her own with a side-note faintly insinuates that perhaps, it is also what her husband Jackson (McDermott) wants despite the huge risk, their marital undertow only alluded during the women folk's regular saloon gossip, and any slant from their opposite sex has been maximally sidestepped (the original play has no male characters in the plot), and Jackson evidently doesn't come off as a model husband, but what comes to fore is the relationship between M'Lynn and Shelby, a mother's completely-selfless affection to her daughter (including donating one of her kidneys) Vs. a young woman's death-defying conviction to become a mother on her own term (latently also to ameliorate her marriage snag), although in hindsight, the latter descends to borderline injudiciousness, but quite tallies with the ethos of its time.
Thankfully there are more upbeat subplots, which include a coruscating widow-duo, a graceful Clairee (Dukakis), once was married to the late former mayor, and a cantankerous Ouiser (MacLaine, a salient transformation in her appearance to enhance her senility), they banter, change repartee, bicker, make up, both are sprightly and wonderfully larger-than-life; whereas Annelle also says goodbye to her own troubled past, and finds solace in religion and soon a new husband with a baby on the way; only the relation between a generically spirited Truvy and her offish hubby Spud (Shepard) doesn't pan out effectively in the final product.
STEEL MAGNOLIAS is a springboard to leapfrog Julia Roberts into stardom, earns her the very first Oscar nomination at the age of 22 over the more prestigious distaff thespians, still, how can one not be petrified to watch Field's mind-blowing flare-up in the cemetery one-take and in the next second, not get wryly bemused by Dukakis' off-kilter humor to swerve the mood back from abysmal heartbreak? According to my book, a more Oscar-deserving supporting player is the consistently fiery MacLaine, a recalcitrant rebel and nothing can hold her back! By contrast, a dewy Robert only outshines others by design in her one-off diabetes attack sequence.
In all fairness, this female-skewing small-town melodrama hits the right spot as a life-affirming motion picture which appeals to a much more overlooked demography, but it is also stalled by its morally provincial material and a slightly over-honed happy-clappy tone to some extent.
Shadow of a Doubt (1943)
An average family in Santa Rosa, California, being encroached by a man of vice in this intriguing Hitchcock thriller, a young teenager Charlotte Newton (Wright), aka. Charlie, grumbles about her family's stuck-in-inertia status quo: her father Joseph (Travers) is an ordinary bank clerk, who is only fond of prattling about morbid murder strategy with their neighbor Herbie (Cronyn in his film debut); her mother Emma (Collinge), a tireless housewife who has three children to attend to, Charlie, Ann (Wonacott, a bespectacled bookish kid) and Roger (Bates), the youngest boy.
So Charlie is expectant a miracle to happen, to at least bring some excitement, that's when her namesake uncle Charlie (Cotten) from her mother side, announces his visit from New York, where the picture's noir-ish prelude ominously manifests that uncle Charlie is on the run from some unspecified party. Though Charlie claims her intrinsic affinity towards her uncle, gets all hyped-up by an improbable telepathy between them (well, it is just a sheer coincidence), to viewers, her desperation of seizing anything can break the ennui patently overwhelms their real emotional bond. However the plot doesn't pad out their past stories since the narrative steers directly to that suspicion-arousing development right after the first family dinner after uncle Charlie's arrival, his gift to niece Charlie is a ring engraved with other person's initials, a way-too-obvious act of hiding a newspaper article doesn't make much sense in the first place, but the tension has been aptly built, so we are all absorbed to see how young Charlie will step by step edge near the dark secret, which will entirely shatter the shallow idolatry for her worldly uncle and perniciously subject her to consecutive murderous attempts.
That is a typical Hitchcockian premise, the fuse is ignited, let's all wait for the explosion with bated breath. But what jars this is the unfortunately outdated persona of our heroine (it is made in 1943, time changes, so is the ethos), young Charlie is an innocuous gal, safely protected from the adult seediness penetrating the society by provinciality and her "average" upbringing, which indeed ricochet to dampen her spirit. During her rude awakening, Charlie is never proactive to be gauged as smart, or intrepid enough to match her rival, the only reason she can narrowly survive all the deathtraps is just because she cannot die, she is the protagonist, a symbol of innocence and purity, which prompts Hitchcock to really jump the shark in the rash ending to dispatch the villain. Throughout the whole process, Charlie hardly does anything effectively admirable, hobbled by her own sentimentality, she has the key evidence in her hand, but it never occurs to her that a sensible act is to give it to the detective Jack Graham (Carey), who is unmistakably besotted with her, even when she is completely convinced that uncle Charlie is a wrongdoer at large.
Nevertheless, viewers can tell, Hitchcock is more resolute in pinpointing uncle Charlie's sociopathic reckoning, especially his misogynous rant during the dinner, which is plain execrable, what makes him a more deserving recipient of the fortune than those rich widows? It certainly hurts when no one dares to refute back, it is a missed opportunity for Charlie to speak volumes for herself, pitifully it is not in Hitchcock and co's minds. Moreover, a big chunk of the information about uncle Charlie's crime has been decidedly undisclosed, what is the deal with another suspect? And since the detectives have a picture of uncle Charlie, what happens to the assuming witness who could identify the perpetrator? These blank bullets leave the film a bit less compact as a top-tier Hitchcock production, albeit the sporadically scintillating lustre (magnificent chiaroscuro galore) manufactured by the technique department.
wittily provocative, unconventionally allegoric and intoxicatingly irresistible
Dutch director Paul Verhoeven's long-delayed comeback after BLACK BOOK (2006), a vastly engaging Nazi-melodrama made in his motherland, which catapults its heroine Carice van Houten into stardom and to Hollywood as well. And ELLE, is his first French film which debuted earlier in this year's Cannes, headlined by an impeccably charismatic Isabelle Huppert.
Elle refers to Michèle LeBlanc (Huppert), a middle-aged divorcée, who is the head of a video-game company in Paris (an interesting career choice), leads a quite complacent life regardless of some dissonances, like her ex Richard (Berling), with whom she remains an amiable rapport, is dating a new graduate student Hélène (Pons) which raises her eyebrows mixed with a small dosage of jealousy; Josie (Isaaz), the insolent girlfriend of their unambitious son Vincent (Bloquet), is a vitriolic nuisance, now that she is pregnant, they are dependent on Michèle to pay the rent of a new apartment; then her botox-addicted mother Irène (Magre, so sprightly in her age, almost 90), is too smitten with her toy boy Ralph (Lenglet) to be ethical; plus that she is having an affair with Robert (Berkel), the husband of her best friend and colleague Anna (Consigny), just as corny as that.
But a horrific accident will disrupt the status quo, she is raped by a masked intruder in her own apartment, and with her own reason of not reporting the case to the police (a more horrific back story here), she carries on as if nothing happens apart from changing the locks and arming herself with a bottle of pepper spray. But the mysterious rapist doesn't leave her in peace, and she suspects that it is a personal reprisal due to some workplace disagreement, so she bribes a young employer to investigate her suspect. Meanwhile, she is sexually attracted to her neighbor Patrick (Lafitte), an urbane bank broker who lives across the street with his God-fearing wife Rebecca (Efira), Verhoeven and screenwriter David Birke pull no punches to foreground Michèle's sexual urges. An honest take of masturbation with the aid of a pair of binoculars bespeaks the unflinching audacity of the film's stance: we are all libido-driven creatures, even it will subject us to very perilous situations, we still cannot resist the delectable temptation.
After the plot disclosing the identity of the rapist, the guessing game is over but the story veers into a more stimulating concept of why the act repeatedly happens and how far one would go to fully embrace the exploration of one's sexuality (to the extent of sadomasochism and role-playing), on the latter regard, the film is absolutely female-empowering, while the man is basely submitted to his primal desire, it is the woman who dares to challenge the perversity, question the insanity and take the initiative to navigate the course, which cannily imbues the preordained upshot with a tinge of ambiguity (is it a knowing plan of her or an unfortunate happenstance, which makes audience wonder).
The synopsis of the story might sound morbid, but Verhoeven certainly shows his level- headedness to temper it with a comedic bent, mostly owing to Huppert's superb tour-de-force, she is fantastic in her poker-face frivolousness when saddled with the dead-serious matters, and unapologetically affective in the scenes where she is alone in the frame, submerging in her own thoughts and projecting enigmatic gazes, Michèle is a a hard case to crack, so proactive to seize the fate in her own hands, refuses to be sentimental or sympathetic. It goes without saying that Verhoeven has no intention of eliciting compassion or approval from viewers to justify Michèle's erratic behaviour, but admiration of her own unique existence, independent, honest and indestructible. A variegated supporting ensemble adorns and surrounds a sparkling Huppert, notable mentions to Laurent Lafitte, who legitimately balances on a very darker character between deception and candor, delves into the warring battle of a tortured soul and Anne Consigny, who is a refreshing, tendresse-radiating foil contrasting a relentlessly unfathomable Huppert.
Love thy neighbors, but don't go overboard, ELLE is wittily provocative, unconventionally allegoric and intoxicatingly irresistible. Also the film has been selected as French candidate of BEST FOREIGN LANGUAGE PICTURES, so Ms. Huppert is officially in contention for the increasingly chock-a-block Oscar race ahead, the plot deliciously thickens
The Hateful Eight (2015)
Old tricks from Mr. Tarantino
In post-mortem, if we must find a fall guy for the calamitous upshot of Tarantino's latest gory saga THE HATEFUL EIGHT, which of the hateful one do you pick? Without too much struggle, I will say it is the bounty hunter John "The Hangman" Ruth (Russell), who insists on taking his quarries alive to see them hang, even in the case of Daisy Domergue (Leigh), who is wanted dead or alive. If only he could ape the fashion of his fellow black hunter Major Marquis Warren (Jackson), the story would have ended in a more insipid but undeniably more efficient and casualty-less note.
The truth is, sometimes, once a certain reputation has been established, to alter it may not be all that easy even if it means less trouble involved for pragmatic reasons, and surely, John Ruth doesn't care for the easiest way, he sticks to his gun until he meets his maker. Or the same thing can be referred to Mr. Tarantino himself, who has become overwrought to retain his brand of overripe violence and loquacious confidence, which obstructs his attempt of going further.
Tarantino's script is also cagey about the backstory of Daisy, what she has done to make her a wanted outlaw worth 10,000$, a quite obvious concern no one cares to broach during their over- elaborate political and radical prattle, even gauging by her last name alone, Ruth or Warren should have gotten an inkling about what could happen en route to their destination, a town called Red Rock in Wyoming. That is unfortunately a scriptsmith's job to pre-empt these inauspicious after- thoughts from audience, which rarely happens in Tarantino's previous output.
This one-day stretch story occurs in the same time frame of Tarantino's previous DJANGO UNCHAINED (2012), a few years after the American Civil War, but structurally much more stage- oriented, with the preponderance of the happenstances being hemmed inside a stagecoach lodge (imitate a big soundstage) due to a blizzard outside, it tellingly reminds us of RESERVOIR DOGS (1992), a similar whodunit trope (initiated by Tarantino's own voice-over) also takes place just when all the political rebuke, repetitive woman-beating, racist teases and gross provocation start to pall. A tangible intensity duly engages when a flashback chapter narrates the horrid slaughter happened earlier at the exact place, we were all haplessly sitting in the darkness, waiting for the blood-spluttering brutality to pour out. Afterwards, it goes without saying, no one can come out of the shoot-out unscathed, and a frontier justice (deliberately elucidated by Tim Roth's Oswaldo Mobray with an unsubtle Christoph Waltz impression, earlier in the casual padding) symbolically settles the score in the money shot, to suggest after all, there are righteous heroes in this trigger- happy milieu crammed with hateful individuals.
The film is shot in the rare Ultra Panavision 70 process, credits must be given to its cinematography for its sporadic but grandiose snowscape by DP Robert Richardson, while most indoor shots are fluidly choreographed and unobtrusively operative. Much kudos to Morricone's Oscar-winning score as well, palpitates closely with the film's mood swings and flares up when the visual grandeur emerges.
Jennifer Jason Leigh finally joins the Oscar-calibre echelon after being the most overlooked actress (as for as Oscar is concerned) of her generation, her performance here is unabashedly attention- grabbing, even when she is sitting there wordless, motionless, often chained with Russell's Ruth, she is enigmatic to regard (stunning makeup work here too), although her Daisy turns out to be out-and-out evil, when the crunch hits, there is a wishful thinking that she might get her way, not because we are rooting for her, but her feral, blood-covered ferocity is such a zinger on the screen, especially for female characters. Among the rest seven, Samuel L. Jackson is finally first-billed in a Tarantino's picture after a collaboration stretching over two decades, his swagger and flair is undeniably fetching, his arch ambivalence hangs tough until he gets shot in the balls (his manhood bravado gets its comeuppance). Walton Goggins, plays Chris Mannix, the supposed new sheriff of Red Rock, unexpectedly becomes the most important asset in the third act, in spite of an almost farcical front in his greenness, while all the others are typical Tarantino pawns, including the secret hateful No. 9, Channing Tatum.
For my money, THE HATEFUL EIGHT can still quench the thirst of Tarantino's devout cinephiles, since he knows exactly what they want, the excesses of unrepentant gore, piled-up body counts and the psychological maneuver, but if you are intrigued to see if he has learned any new tricks, the answer will be disappointing.
Love & Friendship (2016)
a crisply orchestrated period comedy has no problem of charming the less narrow-minded
Achieving the high point of commercial success among all Whit Stillman's films, LOVE & FRIENDSHIP, his fifth feature in 26 years, is an entrancing victory of the sophist and schemer Lady Susan Vernon (Beckinsale), a British upper-rung widow in the end of eighteenth century, who goes to great lengths to secure a well-heeled marriage for her eligible daughter Frederica (Clark) and for herself, if possible.
It is genuinely helpful when Stillman chooses to present each character in successive tableaux in advance with their background infos according to their locations, so audience will not easily get lost in the brisk pace of this dialogue-laden comedy. Lady Susan, is a widow with an unsavory reputation, has no estate or fortune of her own, her last resort is to stay with the family of her brother-in-law Charles Vernon (Edwards) in a tedious town named Churchill after causing a scandal with Lord Manwaring (O'Mearáin), "a divinely handsome man" quotes his name card.
But, Lady Susan will never succumb to the status quo, she initiates a growing rapport with Reginald DeCourcy (Samuel), the younger brother of Charles' biddable wife Catherine (Greenwell), whilst trying to cajole Frederica into marrying an inane parvenu Sir. James Martin (Bennett), a heavenly creature blessed with utter benightedness and sizable fortune, and devoid of any trace of self- consciousness, to the extent of inducing transcendent amazement. But Frederica doesn't bow to her mother's consistent coaxing, she thinks she can making a living by teaching, what a callow gal!
Just when the moderately good-looking but (overtly) snooty Reginald falls head over heels for Lady Susan, counter to the warnings of Catherine and their worried parents (Fleet and Redgrave), and as Lady Susan admitted with her confidant, the American lady Alicia (Sevigny), that her motive is merely to take Reginald down a peg or two of his superiority, things swerve to a more dramatic turn when Reginald finds out Lady Susan has never severed the tie with Lord Manwaring at first place, and even being caught red-handed, she can effortlessly turns the tables on Reginald and takes a pre-emptive measure to hang him out to dry by breaking their vow of matrimony, which further pushes him closer to Frederica, who would be a more suitable bride for him in all regards. In the final revelation, Lady Susan takes the advice from Alicia, a new marriage arrangement presents a superbly happy ending to everyone (barring the hysterically shrill Lady Manwaring), who can say a woman cannot have everything?
For inveterate misogynists, the film can hardly be their cuppa, it potently vindicates a woman's undivided manipulation to get what she wants, and all its male characters are either downright ridiculed or broadly rendered as completely witless and predictable. But under that specific context, a hierarchically patriarchal society, there is not many alternatives available for a lady in her place, love is defenselessly secondary to a secured life, but for a woman as smart as Lady Susan, she can obtain both if given her a chance.
The film marks the reunion of the two leads from Stillman's THE LAST DAYS OF DISCO (1998), Beckinsale seizes a meaty role which allows her lap up in her native British accent to toy with oration of hyperbole and sophistication, perhaps a Golden Globe nominee is waving at her at last after a 15-year-stint in the Hollywood trying to establish herself as a serious actress since her breakthrough in Michael Bay's PEARL HARBOR (2001); as for Sevigny, who is patiently engrossing as a woman constantly on the risk of being sent back to Connecticut (even be scalped) by her husband if she keep meeting her ill-famed best friend, her understated presence is a crucial transmitter to impart exposition through all the tangles (a maneuver to counterbalance the source novella's epistolary structure). The whole cast has done a commendable job, with Bennett as the indisputable cynosure thanks to Stillman's deliberate frivolousness. One thing seems a bit jarring is the character of Frederica, who is introduced as a rejector from her school but turns out extremely well-mannered, makes one wonder what possible could she has done to deserve such a punishment other than being a shoddy plot device. Nevertheless, LOVE & FRIENDSHIP is a crisply orchestrated period comedy has no problem of charming the less narrow-minded with a tantalizing 90-minute mind game.
Crazy Heart (2009)
doesn't live up to all the accolade it has sparked
Not everyone deserves a second chance, what do we see in Bad Blake (Bridges)? A 57-year-old scuzzy musician on the brink of bankruptcy, touring in small bowling alleys (hey! it is the Dude himself back in his favorite haunt) and bars to make ends meet, what is more pathetic, he is an inveterate alcoholic. But, he is a legend of his profession, though he has been on the downturn for too long and alcohol seriously bogs down his songwriting gift along with his health, now he basically banks on his old discography to attract his die-hard/desperate groupies and holds an invidious grudge towards his protégé Tommy Sweet (Farrell), who is the red-hot country star now, but becomes more and more independent from him.
CRAZY HEART is Scott Cooper's debut film which finally won Jeff Bridges an Oscar more for his overdue status (5th time is the charm) than the calibre of the performance per se. There is no denying of the country-veteran finesse on stage from the musically inclined Bridges, which rightfully should also be obliged to a killing soundtrack cooked up by Mr. Burnett and the late Stephen Bruton. Mr. Bridges certainly goes out on a limb to make Bad Blake a thorough and convincing transformation from a down-and-out performer lolling in his dim motels watching Mexican soapie to a smitten soul resuscitated by a May-December romance with a young singer- mother-cum-journalist Jean Craddock (Gyllenhaal), we see him drinking, performing, vomiting, meeting-cute, touring with Sweet, parenting, drinking, panicking, repenting, drinking, vomiting until he passes out in his bathroom, then drying-out and finally he can write some new materials, the trajectory is ever-familiar, but proffers carte blanche for Mr. Bridges to rescue his character from his self-destructive morass and render as much sympathy as possible.
But the plot takes some arbitrary licenses in their doomed romance, for instance, if one intends to blame Bad's alcoholism for the incident causes the riff between him and Jean, the approach should have been more specific, in lieu of simply making a toddler disappear even before Bad is visibly well-oiled, which seems to imply that Jean is over-reacting in the aftermath (because the scenario could happen to everyone other than those who are under the influence), to shift some burden from Bad's behavior to Jean, and harshly intimate that she might not be such a saintly savior as we see, albeit in our moral compass, whoever is brave enough to kiss that alcohol and smoke soused mouth, then subsequently falls in love with a character like Bad Blake, must be a self-sacrificing angel!
Ms. Gyllenhaal usurps an Oscar nomination too, but her character is pigeonholed into a generic love interest slot, with no further delving into her psyche except for her overbearing maternal protection towards her son, also in the love-making shots, there are tangible awkwardness between her and Bridges, perhaps, both are too self-aware of their gaping age difference, against Cooper's conspicuous endeavor to project Jean in the centre during their making out, to pinpoint that she is literally enjoying the process, which only becomes embarrassingly risible, betrays a stinking whiff of self-boasting of a unpleasant, elder man's potency. Colin Farrell, during his limited screen-time, brings a breezy personality with his undisclosed singing bent, in a surprising way, his Tommy Sweet is not a blatant ingrate as we had anticipated (mostly influenced by Blake's steely taciturnity whenever his name pops up). At bottom, CRAZY HEART is a slightly above-par independent charmer, nevertheless doesn't live up to all the accolade it has sparked.