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Still Alice (2014)
Moore is unequivocally riveting!
Rather surprisingly I found out this little film is opened in Cairo this weekend, just after Moore's Oscar triumph, as happiness often befalls unexpectedly, one year ago, I would never imagine this could happen to my favorite actress, at an age considered as the dead- end for most actress, she manages to pull off a such a landslide victory for late bloomers, more unbelievable is that it is from such a low-key director-team Glatzer and Westmoreland, whose previous Errol Flynn biopic THE LAST OF ROBIN HOOD (2013) is a total fiasco.
Life is always unfair, in BIRDMAN (2014, 8/10), the has-been actor Riggan Thomson motives himself with a hip mantra "sixty is the new thirty", but not for for Dr. Alice Howland (Moore), a linguistic professor at Columbia University, who has just passed her 50-year-old birthday, her life will slump into the worst scenario due to the early onset Alzheimer's disease. Her previous perfect life, with a loving husband John (Baldwin), three grown-up children with the forthcoming twins from her eldest daughter Anna (Bosworth), plus a plum profession, will all be predestined to plunge into a void.
Glatzer and Westmoreland (real life partners and the former is diagnosed with ALS) brings about a honest and almost raw take on the disease's infliction almost inclusively from Alice's perspective, and no over-hyped theatrical troupe with intense altercation and dramatic disruption from her family, even in the heightened moment when Alice informs her children, her rare case in hereditary through her genes, everything plays out realistically without any intention to implant certain plot machination to point out the ramifications aside from Alice's own deterioration, Moore is riveting in all respects, permeates the kitchen-sink story with her precisely lifelike interpretation of a woman succumbs to oblivion, sternly underscores her powerlessness to even hold the command of her own life when her laborious suicidal attempt could be so easily spoiled, the film hits the right spot for those who has personal contacts with patients of Alzheimer disease. The comparison between Moore and other two recent similar Oscar-nominated performances Julie Christie in AWAY FROM HER (2006, 8/10) and Emmanuelle Riva in AMOUR (2012, 8/10) seems to be unavoidable for debate, but the latter two roles are intricately written for dramatisation (one involuntarily erases the memory of her loyal husband and the other is heightened by her physical immobilisation due to the old age) where the POVs are both reflected from the husbands, here, one must give credits to the counter-sensation decision for the filmmakers, which allows a more objective (even a bit too conventional) angle to witness how the demolition is effectuated.
The supporting cast has never been offered enough material to give play to their talent, maybe most of them consider it more as a privileged opportunity to work with Ms. Moore or a favour to the director duo than a flashy role up for grabbing. The film materialises itself as an ordinary-looking production comes closer to a Lifetime TV flick texture, also the accompanying score is too lugubrious and recycled which purposefully serves for a second-rate sob-fest.
It is awfully difficult for me to write my review objectively, obviously because of my personal affinity to Moore, and without her, the film barely can be valued in any aspects of "best" criterion, but it is an important film to convey its central message and subject-matter, to arouse awareness and spark off attention for those patients and their families, and hope something positive will consequently ensue. Finally, as thrilled as I am for Moore's coronation, I will be deceive myself to deny there is a faint whiff of dissatisfied feeling afterward, simply because we know how excellent Moore is in her other unconventionally daring and provocatively juicy roles, but in the end, it is this unassuming "ugly duckling" one wins her the top prize, I think only the die-hard Moore-devout can go through my ambivalent thoughts. Also it is always unwise to get the predated title such as "an Oscar winning performance" seated before watching the film as it often ruins the original gusto.
Clouds of Sils Maria (2014)
an European amalgam prose of MAPS TO THE STARS and BIRDMAN
From its synopsis Olivier Assayas' latest drama seems like an European amalgam of David Cronenberg's MAPS TO THE STARS (2014, 7/10) and the newly Oscar champ BIRDMAN (2014, 8/10). Juliette Binoche plays a famous actress Maria Enders in her mid-40s, so in another word, she plays herself, she even grouses about shooting in front of the green screen (so presumably we will not see her in sequel of GODZILLA 2014, 6/10), who is en route to accept an award on behalf of playwright and director Wilhelm Melchior - who firstly discovered her in his play MALOJA SNAKE when she was 18, and then starred her in a film version which kick-started her later movie career - with her assistant Valentine (Stewart) on a train to Zurich where she receives the news Melchior just committed suicide due to terminal illness.
Soon Maria is persuaded by a young director Klaus (Eidinger) to star in a revival play of MALOJA SNAKE in tribute to Wilhelm, only this time, her role is the elder lesbian woman who is driven to her self-destruction by a young girl played by Maria more than 20 years ago and now the performer will be Jo-Ann (Grace Moretz), a red-hot Hollywood Lohan-type bad girl with a theatrical background. While Maria is rehearsing her new role in the house where Wilhelm lived in Sils Maria, she is also struggling with the acceptance of her psychological alteration from one role to the other, her rapport with Valentine undergoes an overhaul as well.
The bulk of the film revolves around Maria and Val's interactions, unlike Moore's "chore whore" sneer of Wasikowska in Cronenberg's Tinseltown mockery, Maria is sensible to share an egalitarian platform to Val, they talk like friends, share career suggestions, their lives and real thoughts, during the rehearsal, the tension of characters in the script inevitably mingles with them, as Assayas hints with light touch, the sheer incongruity seeps almost unforced, up until the crescendo when they hike to the perfect location to watch "Maloja's snake", the meteorological phenomena, one conspicuous shot ominously suggests Val is not there anymore. News flashes, Stewart just won a César Award, a record for American actors, but I have never dared to lay my eyes on TWILIGHT series, I cannot make any comparison to confirm what a leap she has achieved, but given her scintillating two-hander with Binoche, she charismatically exudes resilience and subtlety which bespeaks her acting range is definitely very promising.
Binoche on the other hand, as intrepidly excellent as always (to say the least is her ephemeral nude scene a sharp comparison withStewart, who requires a full set of bikinis), layers her performance with innate clashes and indecision about her perspective of the world, her feeling towards Val, even her own career orbit, it is funny that, like Keaton in BIRDMAN, she is the same kind who loathes internet gossips and big-budget blockbuster, but whenever she wants to know something, the knee-jerking reaction is to google it on her iPad or cellphone, it is almost impossible to shun away from this kind of invasion, a double- edged joke on all of us. During the epilogue in London, after being completely sidelined during the race between Jo-Ann and paparazzi about her home-wrecker identity, Maria finally see the real world clearly and let her ego slide, it is always about find your right place, where Keaton fails to balance himself in, eventually, Maria Enders, gracefully embraces her status as a "timeless" presence, which is a true honour any insecure thespian should strive for and it is also the niche spot where Juliette Binoche comfortably sits right now.
Without any original score, Assayas merely constructs the film with ready-made soundtracks, one memorable piece is Primal Scream's Kowalski, adheres to Valentine's driving in the dawn, conjures up an ethereal atmosphere together with the marvellous vista shots of Sils Maria, which actually, can be regarded as the counterbalance to the film's occasional sloppiness in its not-so-inventive narrative skeleton and prose-like script, which often debars Assayas from reaching his summit for just a notch.
The Go-Between (1971)
A long hot summer in the rural Norfolk
An elaborate UK period costume drama from Joseph Losey, the Palme d'Or winner of 1971 and scripted by Harold Pinter (their third collaboration after THE SERVANT 1963, 8/10 and ACCIDENT 1967), which also bookended the honeymoon period between them, from L.P. Hartley's eponymous novel which begins with "The past is a foreign country, they do things differently there". The central narrative is set in 1900, a 12-soon-to-be-13Leo (Guard) stays as a guest with the wealthy family of his schoolmate Marcus (Gibson) in rural Norfolk during a torrid summer, and soon becomes a go-between and delivers letters between Marcus' upscale sister Marian (Christe) and her secret inamorato Ted Burgess (Bates), a tenant farmer.
While the upper class splendor does open the eyes of Leo, who is from a not-so-noble family, he is more intrigued by Ted's unrefined masculinity, and constantly pesters him about the meaning of "spooning", also his fascination towards the gorgeous Marian retains him as the loyal messenger of their forbidden romance. Until he knows Marian will marry to Hugh Trimingham (Fox), a viscount returned from war, with a glaring scar on his face, a man whom he also respects, Leo wavers, and on the day of his 13th birthday, a tryst is about to be uncovered by Marian's stern mother (Leighton), and tragedy inevitably will separate the ill-fated lovers.
The film impresses foremost with its stunning bucolic scenery, the alternately mellifluous and eerie sonic environment wondrously created by Michel Legrand's score. And it also takes an unconventional route to underpin the story's seemingly placid surface, exclusively through Leo's observation, to mask its choppy torrent underneath, how the class boundary is preached and the lives of nobility starts to crumble. Equally unusual is the unforeseen insertion of scenes where an agedLeo (Redgrave) revisit Marion - it does baffle audience who is alien with the source novel, but it also creates an air of mystery and an overpowering solemnity which is beguilingly arresting.
The film is a four-times BAFTA winner (with 12 nominations in total) but only be able to generate one BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS nomination for Leighton (remember the great time when BAFTA doesn't condescend to a merely Oscar precursor?), who is menacingly persistent to disclose the scandal in the third act. Christie and Bates, barely sharing the same frame together (bar Ted's rendition when Marian comes to his succor as the musical company and their final tryst), yet both display their rough edges when facing Leo, their inhibited frustration finally finds an orifice on this wide-eyed outsider.
Dominic Guard as the young Leo, is literally the eyes of the film, perpetually frowning, bemused by the adult world he is too eager to comprehend, authentically guarantees Leo's greenness tallies with the outfit Marian bought for him. Edward Fox and Michael Gough complement the outstanding cast with a touch of dignified distinction running in their veins.
Truth to be told, THE GO-BETWEEN is neither an ode of genuine friendship, nor about a young boy's first crush, to me, Losey conceives this story as an innocence-lost process which every boy must undergo, a dispirited revelation of how adulthood is never as inspiring as he imagined. But overall, it occasionally tainted by the brunt of its narrative ellipsis, which would reach its detrimental apex in THE ROMANTIC ENGLISHWOMAN (1975, 4/10).
Why no buzz for Tatum, he is great in FOXCATCHER!
Another this year's Oscar hopeful right before the Oscar night (although up to this moment, it is more likely to be an also-ran in all its 5 nominated categories), Bennett Miller tackles another sport after MONEYBALL (2011, 6/10), his similarly-fated Oscar players. This time it is about wrestling,FOXCATCHER recounts the infamous USA murder case of DavidSchultz (Ruffalo), an Olympic wrestling champion, shot dead by the billionaire John Du Pont (Carell with a fake nose and aged make-up), who started the Team Foxcatcher to sponsor and train national wrestling team for the Olympics, where David was the assistant coach of the team.
Actually the main story here is about David's younger brother, Mark Schultz (Tatum), also an Olympic champion in 1984, who is firstly recruited by John in 1987 as the promising athlete aiming for gold in the upcoming Olympic Games in Seoul, they form a twisted coach-and- trainee relationship (which reminiscent of this year's another Oscar contender WHIPLASH 2014, 9/10) with a pungent insinuation on latent homosexuality (don't tell me the scenes where a half-naked Mark shaving for John is a common picture in straight men's fraternities), while Mark is an impressionable youngster who is exalted to find the like- mindedness and camaraderie with the richest man in American (he is an Olympic champion who is failed to be honored by his country); it is John Du Pont, who is a damaged good inside despite of all his superior facades, he is not a professional coach, just a super-rich dilettante bearing an unquenchable passion for wrestling, also he is often under the influence of his feeble but noble mother (a sterling cameo by the venerable Redgrave), who dismisses his passion-of-life as being "low" (as opposite of hers, raising horses). Miller overtly suggests right after that humiliation, John impulsively vents his rage on Mark and called him an ingrate ape, which ignites the fuse of their ultimate falling-out, things further deteriorate when John finally employs David in his team (a belated move as it will turn out that David is the right coach for Mark), but at that moment, their relation turns sour since it is John who previously encourages him to get out of the shadow of his brother, so Mark feels alienated and belittled, he builds the tension both with John and David, finally he fails in the competition and is dropped out of the team soon afterward.
It has always been a mystery of John's motivation to murder David, and Miller as always, doesn't opt to spoon-feed his audience with a clear answer, or dramatize the sensation to be impressive, only leaves his clues among his muted-palette frames with undivided aplomb. So my take is that the murder is John's revenge to his failed liaison with Mark, in his mind, everything goes awry after David arrives, and he is too blind to realize that he is actually the culprit who causes the fiasco, he becomes paranoid and believes that David is behind all this, and should pay for the consequences, thus, in a word, John is an delusional lunatic, doesn't deserve any sympathy or redemption, an expensive price to pay to being that rich.
Carrell elevates himself into the elite club of an comedian-turned-Oscar-nominee (Jim Carrey should cry in his bathroom) thanks to such a hyped physical transformation, he is quite impressive to deliver the unnerving vibe which always hides underneath his condescending pompousness, adeptly mocks a self-claimed patriot who has a distorted soul inside without inducing any untimely comic effect, this man is a serious thespian! His fellow Oscar nominee, Ruffalo, is pitch-perfect too, who can be more sympathetic as a loving brother and an eventual victim played by the unassuming Mr. Ruffalo? One highlight is the grapple with Tatum near the beginning, both display tremendous corporeal endeavor to prepare their roles as wrestling pros, meanwhile Miller and his DP Greig Fraser capture the unspoken tension brilliantly which even makes a wrestling layman like myself feeling captivated.
However, to be perfectly frank, Tatum is the one who gives a more admirable performance and a more accomplished character building, although Mark is dumbed down as a walking ape without any sophisticated depth in his mind, quite "a canary in a coal mine", a measurement of how volatile John Du Pont is, Tatum comes off as a riveting presence from the beginning when he is ill-treated by the society, being socially awkward, seething with spleen and dissatisfaction; with his protruding jaw (more noticeably in his profile) and the chunky unwieldiness, he certainly goes out on a limb to defy all his previous screen charisma to impersonate a character not entirely up his alley, and this is so-called "a breakthrough performance" any young actor aspires to prove to his audience.
MONEYBALL may not grow on me, but FOXCATCHER can easily boost up my confidence towards Miller, after his stunning (non-documentary) feature debut CAPOTE (2005, 9/10), if he can keep working on tantalizing material like this, soon he will find his own keystone as a cinematic auteur with his own fingerprint of handling dark elements with distinguished composure and patience.
Tôkyô monogatari (1953)
My first Ozu's masterpiece
The omission of Ozu's oeuvre is definitely an unerring embarrassment for any movie aficionado, thankfully TOKYO STORY comes to my rescue, presumably Ozu's most renowned work, tellingly it merits all kudos it gets, gracefully scrutinizing the post-WWII mental disposition of Japanese people, and quietly tear-jerking in eliciting recollections and rumination between parents and their children. Parenthood is not for everyone, but we all have parents, we forever hold a sense of regret towards them, especially in the oriental culture, filial piety is the foremost virtue to measure an individual's worth, at least viewed by other family members.
Ozu's camera stands or stays in a perpetual static angle, aka. the now famous "tatami-mat" shot, collectedly watches the motions of its objects, the Hirayama family, Shukichi (Ryû) and Tomi (Higashiyama) is an elderly couple living in Onomichi, taken care by their youngest unwed daughter Kyöko (Kagawa), as the film starts, they set about visiting Tokyo for the very first time, to stay with their grown-up children there, it is a big deal for them, nevertheless, when sojourning in with their eldest son Köichi (Yamamura) and eldest daughter Shige (Sugimura), the couple find themselves become a nuisance towards their families and their busy business, only Noriko (Hara), the wife of their deceased second son (who died in the war 8 years ago), treats them sincerely, brings them to sightseeing, hosts them in her small single apartment. After being sent to Atami for a hot spring spa which turns out to be too rowdy for the elderly, they decide to cut their trip short and return home. However Tomi falls ill on the train, so they have a layover in Osaka, where they meet their youngest son Keizö (Ôsaka), when they reach home, Tomi's illness deteriorates, all the children head back and Tomi passes away shortly.
The story can be derived from every ordinary family, the common dilemma is when we grow up, parents are slowly slipping from our priority list, for the successful ones, Köichi is a neighborhood doctor, Shige opens a beauty salon, they are both married and the former has two young children, but they could not spare one day to spend with their parents, either swamped by urgent appointments or find it hard to close her business even for one day. It is a quotidian trepidation can happen in the much-urbanized city, but Shukichi and Tomi take it lightly, in their simple-minded, you can sense their disappointment, but all they do is enduring it calmly, claim that it is a natural course when children grow up, parents should not be in the way of their lives, beyond all the offhand pleasantries and formal proprieties, the bond of blood relations is sharply lopsided, one cannot help but interpreting it as a faddish mindset of Japanese at that time, but, over 60 years has passed, the film is still distressing to watch as our world barely changes into a better one. Ozu never married in his entire life, so overtly he had been defying this detrimental malady all his life, in the film, Noriko is a sheer opposite of Hirayama's self-seeking offspring (bar Kyöko), it testifies that blood doesn't mean anything at all, which is a lightning bolt to those who deems bloodline as their purest and ultimate legacy in this world.
Performances are uniformly high-end, Ryû radiates with utter aplomb and understanding although it is against his own age to act as a sexagenarian (he was in his early 40s then); Higashiyama calls forth great compassion in audience for her simple and unadorned charisma, Yammer and Sugimura superbly represents two very different kinds of self- obsession, the former is more depicted in a way of thoughtlessness whereas the latter parades her self-pleasing philosophy reeking with a whiff of opportunistic shallowness, but if one observes carefully, the more spiteful one is the former, more than often he awaits the latter to broach on some ill-considered remarks or ideas and then echoes with a genial smile.
The most emotive of all comes from Hara, she is the exemplar of a golden-hearted soul, through her Noriko, Ozu consummately sheds light on the true, the good and the beautiful essence of human nature, Hara has a magnetic affinity on screen, which facilitates herself as one of the most indelible and iconic goddess in the Japanese cinema, now at the age of 95 and let us truly hope she will always stay with us with good health and longevity.
A superb horror-drama and the year's best!
Few might expect an indie drama about a dysfunctional mentor-student relationship about jazz-drum can be such a thrilling adrenaline drive, WHIPLASH, which not only proudly joins the elite top 8 in the upcoming Oscar BEST PICTURE nominees, but is also counted as a major contender in for a harvest (with J.K. Simmons indisputably has BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR in his bag). It is also hard to imagine this is only young director Damien Chazelle's second feature, after his less-seen debut GUY AND MADELINE ON A PARK BENCH (2009), WHIPLASH is such a full-grown piece of gem, with the slithering camera movement, a plethora of intensive close-ups and snappy editing, a buzzy audio surrounding and the irresistible jazzy soundtrack, it engages us with a daunting study of the pursuit of being the greatest and a spellbinding and unblemished mental orgasm in its fierce solo-drum finale.
Structurally the film is unsparing wrangle of dual dynamism between Andrew (Teller), a 19- year-old initiated into an eminent music school in New York and his instructor Terrence Fletcher (Simmons), whose method is unapologetically radical, he has a firm conviction that there is only one way to elicit a prodigy's true potential, which is through high-handed pressure and unyielding dismissal, "good work" is the most vicious remark to nip a prospective genius in the bud, as the jazz titan Charlie "Yardbird" Parker, if his tutor had not thrown a cymbal to him after a mediocre performance, he would not be the short-lived legend in the history of music (he died in the age of 34 and was a severe dug addict). Of course, his one-sided theory cannot convince all the audience, and the truth is, his famous Charlie Parker vignette is mistakenly conceived.
However, Andrew is aspiring to become someone like Parker, he professes to prefer dying young but being one of the greatest to living a conventional life of longevity, so in some extent, they have a tacitly consensual sadomasochistic relation which they both need as a pivot, for Andrew, it is the external incentive he needs to push him to reach raw passion over pure skill, and more sinisterly is for Terrence, he is no way a selfless tutor, to find a talent like Andrew is the ultimate solution to fulfill his own recognition of his entire life, he does't have the potentiality, but he has the keen eyes to detect one, in the final act, Chazelle manifestly tears off Terrence's mask of sanctimony, lays bare the selfishly- motivated intention of retaliation, and the final twist is superlatively terrific, in one hand they both get what they want, but for viewers it is less uplifting than chilling to witness Andrew's transcendence, like in a horror fare, Andrew has to morphed into a monster in order to fight back another monster, if this is the only way to achieve the greatness, I will never second to that kind of atrocity, and greatness doesn't matter under this circumstance.
Miles Teller is formidably stunning as Andrew, with extra credits given to his prowess as a supposedly talented drummer, fully shoulders on Andrew's rite-of-passage from a "squeaker" to a full-charged powerhouse, not just with Terrence, where he never flinch, but also in the scenes with others, in particular during the sparse screen-time with his new girlfriend Nicole (Benoist), Teller's bent as a camera-friendly leading material does outstrip his relatively bland looks, it is a huge shame that he is not in the talk of Oscar-race for this outstanding performance.
Yet again, the MVP is Simmons, his Terrence is a more intelligent and malevolent update of R. Lee Ermey's Sergeant Hartman in Kubrick's FULL METAL JACKET (1987, 9/10), like a kicking time-bomb we never know when he will explode, even in his kindest moments, he is spine-chilling to behold from the protection of a screen, makes viewers wonder how can those survive in his studio band or even co-exist in the same place, that is the charisma of such a powerful portrayal, no praise is overstated. Finally, this film jumps to my current No. 1 of 2014, and good luck in the Oscars!
The Theory of Everything (2014)
love is the theory behind everything, not time, not space, not God, only love
Personally I have been suffering from a certain degree of biopic fatigue, those annual staples blatantly pandering to academy recognition are often dazzling with Oscar-baity performances, but its narrative structure and skill usually are all laboriously conventional and monotonous. James Marsh's THE THEORY OF EVERYTHING is the quintessential archetype of this sort and it is going to give Eddie Redmayne the coveted Oscar for such a taxing mission to imitate Stephen Hawking, the still alive-and-kicking bigwig cosmologist. However, Marsh conducts the film with a fluid pace and it wondrously invigorated by its technical crew, particularly Jóhann Jóhannsson's engrossing soundtrack and the ever- pervasive subdued light from lighting department.
So, as a result, the film itself is a pretty good biopic, or more specifically, a good (even great) hagiography, since it is adapted from Jane Hawking's autobiography, she is Hawking's first wife and their marriage lasted for 30 years (1965-1995). Hence Jane (Jones) is not just a supportive wife who lives through all the ups-and-downs with Hawking, but completely overshadowed by his achievement and put aside in the corner as we might expect from any standard biopic of great man, instead, Jane is as much in center both in this picture and the un-common relationship as her renowned husband, it is their love story that touches, impresses and melts our hearts, so if you are going to this film harboring a false hope to witness Hawking's extraordinary academic path, you are destined to feel disappointed. On the other hand, the script excruciatingly whitewashes Jane and Stephen's extramarital affairs to offer both a mutual more high ground of looking good, their ménage- à-trois period with sweet widower Jonathan (Cox) is overwhelmingly in rapport, Jane's repressed feelings towards Jonathan never dare to overstep the social boundary, the most explicit indication is Jane's night visit of Jonathan's tent during a camping, then, that is it, it is always a safe card to leave the rest to audience's imagination, as far as the next morning they are not shown together walking out of the same tent, it is safe! As for Stephen's dallying with Elaine (Peake), goes a little bit more explicitly, using Penthouse magazine as the catalyst, but no further familial conflict is presented, the ugly side is well-preserved in the memories of those who are involved firsthand, audience's voyeuristic curiosity again is quenched mercilessly by the tacit agreement of the filmmakers and the insiders.
No one should depreciate Redmayne's performance, even for the most sharp-tongued disparager, he is absolutely par excellence, when you grab such a once-in-a-lifetime chance and pull off a role with such sublime verisimilitude and imposing elbow-grease, Oscar is in your pocket, even a revered veteran's belated comeback stunner cannot take it away from you (sorry, Michael Keaton). Felicity Jones, is equally excellent, but without a physical-transformation edge to secure a win and one disadvantage is that she is hampered by the default of a hagiography, there is something emotive wanting. Nevertheless, THE THEORY OF EVERYTHING is a cohesively-orchestrated eulogy of the power of love, love is the theory behind everything, not time, not space, not God, only love, even it has decomposed into a past tense, the feeling of its once authentic presence will still be dauntless enough to encourage us to strive in this world of infinity, that's why we should thank this movie for giving us the blessing.
Carpenter and his two leads satisfactorily pull off the star-crossed romance
John Carpenter's STARMAN is a sympathetic star-crossed romance between an alien aka. Starman (Bridges) and an earth woman Jenny (Allen), a rare item in his otherwise horror and action packed works, it is my second film from him, after the disappointingly topsy-turvy BIG TROUBLE IN LITTLE CHINA (1986, 5/10).
First of all, it is a cruel joke on our earthlings, we set off a welcome message into the outer space, and some unspecified highly-intelligent species responses by sending an explorer to our planet, however, the first thing humans do is shooting the vehicles down, then hunting down the e.t. in order to put him on the operation table for dissection. But don't worry, as annoying as the authoritarian NSA chief and the military ostentation and extravagance, things will not descend to that ground. Jenny is recently widowed and still overindulges in the then-sweet-but-now-tormenting memories of his dead husband Scott, so the intrusion of Starman who regenerates himself into a human form of Scott through his hair kept in Jenny's photo album actually gives an impossible chance for Jenny to fall in love with Scott again, thus despite the initial terror to witness the metamorphosis of an unearthly creature turning into Scott, Jenny accepts him almost instantly as subconsciously she knows that her dream comes true in a supernatural version. The pair drives across the country to reach the picking-up location in Arizona, where a mother-ship will take Starman back as it has planned.
En route, the affecting binding progress between them takes a lion's share of the film and romance burgeons inevitably and a nice job done by generously allowing Starman some time to learn in his new form as a male human in this three-day span, the film never intend to be a taut action piece or a CGI-ridden arena for Starman to show off his superpower other than when the plot requires, emotion always comes first, even poetically, which one might find it unexpectedly against Carpenter's grain, Jenny and Starman are each other's savior, once they builds the trust and affections, they are inseparable. As corny as that he resuscitates her from death, cures her infertility and gives her a baby boy, whereas she has the relentless will power to bring him to the appointed venue, to eventually save his life, Carpenter and his two leads pull it off satisfactorily.
Bridges garners a surprising Oscar-nomination here, he demonstrates a primitive method as a newcomer habituating, mimicking and grasping human behavior, impressively carries on his otherworldliness through the journey with advanced nuances in gesticulation and language capacity. Allen brings about a force of momentum in her more mundane part, overwhelmed by the frisson of regaining and losing again of her true love, she and Bridges share many intimately heartfelt moments in this fanciful tall-tale, its CGI effects inescapably seem dated, but the kernel of its message - to evoke the basic humanity within us, leaves viewers a somewhat palatable taste which injects the movie a vital strength to be finely appreciated.
Le voleur (1967)
Malle's nihilistic getaway
THE THIEF OF Paris certainly is not Louis Malle's most illustrious work, pales in comparison with classics like ELEVATOR TO THE GALLOWS (1958, 8/10), THE FIRE WITHIN (1963, 9/10), LACOMBE, LUCIEN (1974, 8/10), or even his Hollywood legacies as Atlantic CITY (1980, 7/10) and VANYA ON 42ND STREET (1994, 7/10), but it might be his brightest and the most nihilistic.
In Malle's film, burglary is not a disgrace profession at all, and Georges Randal (Belmond) is a very promising one, with his bourgeois upbringing and extraordinary composure. His first go is an act of revenge to sabotage his cousin Charlotte's (Bujold) arranged marriage organized by his rapacious uncle Urbain (Lude), who raises him up but also appropriates properties of George's deceased parents. So he has to leave, accidentally joined by two habitual thieves, the priest Félix (Guiomar) and Roger-La-Honte (Le Person). Together, Georges marches on successfully and gets flirty with several women, Broussaille (Jobert), Roger's brothel-running sister in London; Ida (Fabian), one of her girls; Renée (Sarcey), the wife of his college mate Mouratet (Crouzet) and Genevière (Dubois), an unhappily married wife, who also wants to rob her husband blind.
Most of the time, the film embraces a nonchalant casualness in the supposedly highly- surreptitious activities, minutely showing viewers the details of breaking-in a villa, prising open a safe box or using caustic acid, meanwhile bourgeois class again is under the lash of Malle's wielding, the ultimate shame is Urbain on his death bed, he has to watch Georges feasibly falsify his will and Charlotte utter that she has no sympathy to him at all.
Career hazard matters, particular for thieves, but Georges is the kind (one we are all too familiar with) that cannot stop even he patently comprehends the aftermath, because it is the danger is beckoning them to act, to induce the thrill and fulfillment his life needs, so in the final act, Malle mischievously lures us into a paranoiac game reflected from George's mind, then calmly ends the film, an anticlimax fits this generally unexciting adventure.
There are nothing too thrilling for the cast to do either, Belmondo might not be the romantic type, but as rakish as he could be, Guiomar liberates some deadpan seriousness of juggling his holy vocation with mundane misdeeds. Belles are all over the maps (Bujold, Sarcey, Dubois, Fabian, even Lafont in her small part as a very French maid), but never arouse too much frisson in their auxiliary functions, really a pity.
BIRDMAN cannot escape its all-too-obvious self-awareness in spite of its equally overt artisanal conceit
Finally I can get around to watch several current Oscar contenders before this year's ceremony arriving in mere two weeks. BIRDMAN is the most intriguing one, it might give Alejandro González Iñárritu the prestige which his fellow Mexican compatriot Alfonso Cuarón has received one year earlier for GRAVITY (2013, 9/10), simply because the film is the another formidable labor-of-love with a paradigm-shifting cinematographic endeavor, not a coincidence, the two films share the same DP Emmanuel Lubezki, not even detractors can deny BIRDMAN's spurious one-long-take gimmick is a wonder to witness, sometimes viewers are so much so that being overpowered by the slithering camera movements in the masterly spatial structures and even overlook the proceedings on screen, so, a re-watch is highly recommended.
Basically the movie is a self-referencing parody, the former Batman Keaton plays a washed- up actor Riggan Thomson, whose most popular role is also in a money-grubbing franchise called Birdman as the titular superhero, now 20 years has past since the last time he was in that bird uniform, he is going to Broadway and trying to revive his career by writing, directing and staring a play adapted of Raymond Carver's WHAT WE TALK ABOUT WHEN WE TALK ABOUT LOVE, finally this is a career-defining opportunity for Keaton and he nails it remarkably. Naomi Watts is Lesley, one of the actress of the play, it is her Broadway debut, she is so insecure of her acting capability, and also shares a girl-on-girl kiss with another actress Laura (Riseborough), sounds familiar, a tribute to MULHOLLAND Dr. (2001, 9/10), right? Also there is Edward Norton plays Mike Shiner, a vainglorious actor who comes on board in the last minute but turns out to be quite a prick both on and off stage, so Iñárritu must be fully aware of Norton's reputation before offering him such a meaty part which would be a comeback call for the once prodigal son (his play-off with Keaton is terrific!). One cannot left out Emma Stone, who plays Sam, Riggan's rehab-retreated daughter, with her druggy make-up and ever-so-popping eyes, an ex-junkie is so full of life. Her flaring-up tirade against Riggan's last-straw investment on this play is her ticket to an Oscar nomination.
Antonio Sanchez's syncopated drum beats amps up the narrative wonderfully, in particular when Riggan battles with his undying alter-ego, the Birdman, his own demon which urges him to fight, to still be relevant in the downfall, through his illusory telekinesis, the imagined flying, and a real Time Square streaking, until the surprising curtain call in the premiere of the play, Riggan succeeds, which in an ironical way leaves him a bird-man mask on the face, he is on the top page of the newspaper again, until the inexplicable ending, the film tries very hard to maintain its strength as a dark comedy (against its unique faux-one-take guideline), yet Sam's expression in the coda certainly is a perfect solution to render this tall- tale with a phantasmagoric explanation.
The race between BOYHOOD (2014, 8/10) and BIRDMAN has reached its acme thanks to the divisive outcome from SAG, PGA, DGA (all favor BIRDMAN) and BAFTA (BOYHOOD captures the top honor), although neither of them are in my top 3, I will give an edge to BOYHOOD. BIRDMAN owns its undiminished flair with its distinguished style, but personally, like the theater critic in the film (who is marvelously played by Lindsay Duncan in her cameo appearance), none of the characters are sympathetic enough to deserve our care and attention, a has-been cannot cope with the fact that he is past his prime, and needs a miracle to feel alive; an arrogant actor who can only liberate himself on stage whereas off stage, he is a giant pain in the neck; a spoiled daughter wandering in her post- rehab anxiety, these are awful personae who should not have the privilege to win audience over, of course, maybe in the eyes of academy members, they are way too relevant, too visceral, too reverberating but for the general mass, BIRDMAN cannot escape its all-too- obvious self-awareness in spite of its equally overt artisanal conceit, and for Iñárritu, one can assume that he knows showbiz is a stinking vat, but he cannot fully resist its alluring temptation, instead, he gives its a leeway and fawn on for its highest recognition. My sole hope is that the majority of the academy members' eyes are limpid enough to discern that.