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sometimes, one must jilt high fidelity to achieve some extraordinary, but HIGH-RISE obviously is not the case here
It took exactly 40 years to actualize the screen transposition of J.G. Ballard's dystopian novel HIGH-RISE, which is published in 1975. UK maverick Ben Wheatley takes on the project, his fifth feature, with verve and brio on the face of that the story itself is more often than not, deemed unfilmable.
An ideological fable corralling a mishmash of characters inside an august tower block, with its occupants easily compartment-ed into a social and ritual hierarchy commensurate with the altitude of their stories. On its top 40th floor, resides the architect of the building Anthony Royal (Irons) and his wife Ann (Hawes), approached only through an exclusive elevator and surrounded by a luxuriant rooftop garden, occasionally Ann will throw a lavish 18-century French costume party out of caprice, which our protagonist, Dr. Robert Laing (Hiddleston) is invited but his suited formality is bitingly derided by the hostess and company.
Laine is a new tenant who occupies a room in the 25th floor, which denotes his status as a bridge between the upper and lower floors, indeed, he befriends an idle documentary maker Richard Wilder (Evans) and his preggy wife Helen (Moss, sports a British accent) who lives below and catches the attention of Charlotte (Miller), a voluptuous single-mother who lives just above him, before they take a roll in the hay, also he is the one who is invited by Mr. Royal himself to glance the view of the top, whereas for Wilder and his ilk, they don't even have a clue about what the architect looks like.
Told from flashback, within three months, everything would descend into sheer anarchy, that's what unrelievedly en-trains in a fictive dystopian world, due to class stratification and its trimmings: uneven allocation of resources, miscarried privilege, ennui and debauchery. In a starkly impressive visual tack, Wheatley unleashes his faculties to maximally depict the ongoing strife, encounters and their ramifications with slickness (a music video feel of poshness, especially topped off by Portishead's cover of ABBA's S.O.S.) and confidence (slo-motions, pulsating tableaux and revealing compositions galore). But on a lesser note, the narrative never truly gels which renders the vociferous actions bluntly improbable and incoherent. It is just a matter of time for viewers to lose one's investment in its heterogeneous characters, carrying off their tussles, assassinations, dry-humpings and petulant decisions to a hyper-stylized genre pastiche which we have already seen, for example in Boon Jooh-ho's SNOWPIERCER (2013), with much more gusto and thrill.
A can-do ensemble cast shouldn't be accountable for the film's own textual disarray as most of them are hobbled by the flimsy material at their disposal: Hiddleston is exploited as a jolly-good specimen, inhabits himself to Laine's suit fetish, gratuitous nudity and simulated romp with the same commitment; Sienna Miller, as gallant as she is, is given the short hand of a misogynous male- gaze, at one point she is mentioned by the tightness of her genitals, always a fair game to blame along other petticoat cohorts; but it is Luke Evans, upstages everyone else in his greasy wig and blood-tainted slap, gets off on Richard's insurrectionary vibe and having a field day.
When the coda finally reveals the story takes place in Thatcher's era, its ripple effects can be wholeheartedly related to today's political weather, since it is always the same-old transgression stemming from the capitalistic structure, but tackling with an influential but un-cinematic fiction, one needs a much more tectonic re-imagination and re-structuring of its source material before indulging it with all the glitters, sometimes, one must jilt high fidelity to achieve some extraordinary, but HIGH-RISE obviously is not the case here.
this Ozon-and-Fassbinder hybridization doesn't yield a 1+1>2 ground-breaker
When Ozon meets Fassbinder, WATER DROPS ON BURNING ROCKS is based on Fassbinder's four- act play he wrote when he was only 19, with a minimal cast of four exclusively boxed inside an apartment, which immediately evokes Fassbinder's own chamber rhapsody THE BITTER TEARS OF PETRA VON KANT (1972), but under Ozon's fabrication, there is enough French glibness and levity to temper an inchoate observer's jejune but palatable fantasy about the abjection of love.
Léopold (Giraudeau), a 50-something business man, brings home a 20-year-old boy Franz (a ginger Zidi), aka. Fassbinder's alter ago, they engage in conversations and consensual sex, and in the next act, six-months later, Franz has already moved in as Léopold's living-in boyfriend. The pair often squabbles about trivial matters due to their different personalities, but a grace not is that their sex can still expunge the discomfort, but inexorably the situation evolves into a humiliation test for Franz, as much as he loves Léopold, how long can he endure his domineering volatility?
During Léopold's away for a business trip, Franz's ex-girlfriend Anna (Sagnier) visits him in the apartment and they rekindle their romance and it seems Franz has finally made up his mind, to end his masochistic affection to Léopold and seek a new lease on life with Anna. But their plan is scuppered when Leopold unexpectedly returns home earlier than planned, he effortlessly dismisses their child's play meanwhile at the drop of a hat, Anna falls under Léopold's suave charm and is more than ready to put out, and the situation compounds when Léopold's jilted old-flame Vera (Levine) pays an unbidden visit, the quartet is assembled, and a new round of master-and- slave game starts. A disconsolate Frantz, piqued by Léopold's promiscuity and haughtiness, and the fact that he has never been taken seriously by him in their lopsided relationship, yet admits his incapability to overcome the inherent subservience which a creature holds towards his creator, conducts a final manifestation of his severance from him once and for all.
Demarcated its running time within a 90-minute spell, the film doesn't feel over-claustrophobic in spite of its one-location-only monotony thanks to Ozon's jaunty tenor and clinical interior design, a telling discrepancy from Fassbinder's own temperament, yet both share an artistic astuteness of exquisite camera compositions to amply and examine the emotional turmoil of their actors.
Although the whole narrative might partake of a youngster's perverse Freudian intuition about love, carnality and preordained conflict between rebellion and submission, the core cast leavens the material with layers of personal touch, ranging from bravado (Sagnier's spritely volupté and Zidi's painstakingly bland greenness) to bravura (Giraudeau's quasi-insufferable cockiness and Levine's uncanny vulnerability under the slap). As a matter of fact, Vera's jeremiad told through her ultimate tête-à-tête with Frantz is more unsettling than Frantz's struggle and the last shot framing at her attempt to fight back the stifled morbidness is Ozon's coup de maitre, who never flinch from exacting gallows humor when someone is shuffled off this mortal coil.
By and large this Ozon-and-Fassbinder hybridization doesn't yield a 1+1>2 ground-breaker, nevertheless it still tackles its intricate dilemma with a measured stride, if not entirely coherent, at least we have that "man in overcoat" fetish to relish with a knowing grin.
Le dernier loup (2015)
human vs. nature, simply within ecological parameters
French filmmaker Jean-Jacques Annaud's China-France co-production is his third enterprise tackling with human-animal equilibrium, after THE BEAR (1988) and TWO BROTHERS (2004), WOLF TOTEM is adapted from a popular semi-autobiographical Chinese novel of the same title and is shot in the majestic Inner Mongolian steppe.
During China's Cultural Revolution, in 1969, two students from Beijing, Chen Zhen (Feng) and Yang Ke (Dou) are assigned to the steppe to teach local Mongolian nomads Mandarin and smooth the process of cultural integration. They are under the aegis of Bilig (Mijid), the head of the nomads, a sage mind who inculcates them the precept of the balanced co-existence between mankind and indigenous wolves. But, a pervading human force of greed and self-seeking would soon disrupt the well-maintained balance, wolves are deprived of their sustenance and during one blizzard night, driven by hunger, they attack a horde of horses and result in great casualty, including Bilig's son (although it is an accident). Retaliation is conducted under the command of an apparatchik (Yin), many wolf cubs are perished for the sake of their skins, but Chen saves one cub, secretly raises it like a pet and attachment grows. As often, one considers him or herself doing a good deed would only realise later in the stage it is a mistake, domesticating a feral wolf isn't something worth commending, and it is noteworthy that Annaud doesn't vindicate Chen's behavior by stating that the cub is bereft or in somewhat danger, Chen's behavior is solely out of his own soft spot, with no regard of the consequence for the cub itself, only after Bilig's sensible advice, Chen would right his wrongs to prepare and train the young wolf for its return to its natural territory, and one should remember, it is always a rookie mistake trying to extract a trickle of humanity out of the wild creatures, mutual connection might be able to achieved, but don't belabor yourself with any illusions of any reciprocal gestures.
The stand-off between humans and wolves will reach its heroic climax after the ravenous wolf pack assails a sheep corral during one night and this time, the entire pack is almost being extirpated by bullets and unrelieved vehicle chase, witnessed powerlessly for Chen, if anything, powerless is the omnipresent feeling, wherever humans tread, there are black sheep undermining the natural grandeur and harmony, disasters are bound to ensue, a central message cannot be dissipated by the film's lugubriously concocted positive vibe in the end. It is a big relief Annaud doesn't settle for facile wishful-thinking or radical aggression in its tonality, so that the film manage to retain an organic slant which conforms with his previous similar oeuvres.
The striking animal stunts orchestrated by dexterous trainer Andrew Simpson greatly hone up the set pieces, especially against its ferocious surroundings (the scenes of frozen animal corpses are manifestations of the primordial power of nature), and it goes without saying the film is a continuous landscape-porn (plus two emphatic examples of cloudscape), although sometimes its immaculateness unfittingly instigates the suspicion of an overachieved CGI-preening during the post-production.
The human cast understandably takes a back seat from its awe-inspiring canine counterpart, but the dialogues sound clunky to a Chinese ear, and the character development barely exists, since when Chen and Gasma (Ragchaa), the widow and daughter-in-law of Bilig, become an item? The emphasis is so top-heavy on Chen and his wolf cub, which makes the romantic subplot comes off as abrupt and fluffy. In the main, WOLF TOTEM doesn't shortchange its forte: the spectacular vista and pulsating action sequences, and it also circumspectly bypasses the sensitive political agenda (the film was a mammoth box-office player two years ago during the golden spell of Chinese Spring Festival) and allows the story itself to stimulate reflections on a broader picture: human vs. nature, simply within ecological parameters.
be the devil's advocate
In an exigent movement to redress the prevailing "Oscar so white" controversy in past years, indie filmmaker Barry Jenkins' second feature MOONLIGHT, a Bildungsroman about a black gay boy growing up in Miami, has received unanimous adulation from the critics since the onset of this awards season, as the apotheosis of American cinema in 2016, after Nate Parker's Sundance hit THE BIRTH OF A NATION (2016) being damningly scuttled by the re-surface of the director/star's erstwhile involvement of a rape charge.
Cropping up in the right time with a quirk of good fortune, MOONLIGHT becomes the "chosen one", the go-to recipient of all the laurels and attention with both guilt-ridden and progressive voters alike, as a result, it is heaped with 8 Oscar nominations and it will not go home empty- handedly, but its chance to dethrone LA LA LAND (2016) for the top honor has been on the wane, mostly because of Theodore Melfi's HIDDEN FIGURES (2016), a late-comer, but massively successful in the box office front, headlined by a triad of black actresses, will inevitably split the votes and even supersede MOONLIGHT as everyone's favourite atonement pick (as SAG awards manifest).
As if knowingly constructing its story as a black-version of Richard Linklater's all-white BOYHOOD (2014), MOONLIGHT doesn't have its luxury to capture the real sense of time-passing, but opts for a trichotomous strategy by casting three different actors to play our leading character Chiron from a small child (Hibbert), to a high-schooler (Sanders), and finally an adult (Rhodes). Ghettoized in an exclusively dark-skinned milieu where school bullies, drug dealers are his daily-to-daily encounters, plus a perennially drug-addled mother (Harris) hovering at home, Chiron's formative influences encompass his parents surrogate: the avuncular cracker pusher Juan (Ali) and his sensible girlfriend Teresa (Monáe) and his best friend Kevin (correspondently played by three different actors: Piner, Jerome and Holland), who will later engender his sexual awakening. Jenkins doesn't put any of these controversial issues under the spotlight, not his sexuality, not his race, and Chiron and his bullies have the same skin color, let alone allowing any subplots from the subservient characters, Juan, as much as a pivotal figure in Chiron's life, who simply disappears after the first chapter, and his premature demise would only be passingly referred in the next chapter; so is Kevin, much of his backstory vanishes into void.
Ali and Harris are bestowed with career-boosting Oscar-nominations, yet in my book, as charmingly affirming as Juan is, the former remains only the second best among its male cast (after Hibbert, an enthralling discovery for his searing intensity in his almost wordless incarnation), and the latter is benefited from a showier character arc, Harris compellingly proves that she is a force to be reckoned with in her unflinching effort to bring honesty to her repugnant screen avatar in all three stages of Chiron's life.
Jenkin has a particularly keen eye to transmit an aesthetic palette against the quotidian surroundings and a slithering camera-work doesn't hurt either, which render an artistically beguiling flair to elicit a transcendent atmosphere (blue is indeed the warmest color) around the film's unerring subject, Chiron and Chiron only, whose most salient attribute is his taciturnity, depicted with disparaging impact - the youngster Hibbert's fixated glance is soul-stirring, whereas a rangy Sanders and a beefy Rhodes gear it up to gnawing distress and a charade of social impediment respectively, which precipitates a natural barrier between him and the audience since most of the time, we are dangled to outguess his much internalized emotional morass, but the outcome often leans towards a frustrating side, there is not much zest in him to keep us hooked although it is a frank tack to portray him like that, one must do love human race to really and deeply care about a character like Chiron, that's one of the reasons why the film has become a word-of-mouth favourite apart from its obvious political correctness, no one wants to be labelled as a misanthrope, still, hyping it up as "the" best American film of the year can only hurt its cachet, someone must dare to be the devil's advocate and say it out loud!
Chariots of Fire (1981)
an overachiever and unworthy Oscar winner?
This Oscar-winning UK picture has been long bad-mouthed as an overachiever and unworthy champion ever since it usurped the top honor from its more artistically ambitious opponents, especially, Warren Beatty's long-in-gestation, epic passion project REDS (1981). It is an underdog's triumph, not unlike the real-life story it depicts, two Golden medals from UK running team in the Paris Olympics, 1924.
One of the two winners is Harold Abrahams (Ben Cross), an English Jew who enters the Cambridge in 1919, and the other is Eric Liddell (Charleson), a Scottish missionary born in China (and would later die in China in a Japanese civilian internment camp in 1945), thereof, the main obstacle against Abrahams' rising is the anti-Semitism pervading the British academia, whereas in Liddell's case, the through-line is his devout persuasion and unswerving conviction that "he will not run on Sundays" not even for the sake of the monarchy. Both accounts are interwoven steadily with jaunty verve and charming lucidity, and put the reasons behind their running to the forefront.
In spite of a face-off in the same competition, brotherly rivalry is never the thorny issue (although it would be undeniable more interesting than the patriotic hagiography in the offer) once they both are recruited to partake in the Olympics, together, they must take up the gauntlet from the elite across the Atlantic Ocean (two US cinematic rising stars, Brad Davis and Dennis Christopher, are cast in small parts). Liddell would stir quite a controversy with his intractability but as long as he would win, it only incarnates his integrity.
Inherently, running doesn't entail too much visual grandeur and their duration is fleeting, Abrahams wins in the 100 meter (barely over 10 seconds) and Liddell prevails in the 400 meter race (less than 50 seconds) respectively, so in order to accentuate the tension and glory of the process, director Hugh Hudson pragmatically implements the slo-motion shots to capture the racing moments of the two, especially Liddell, whose spiritual immersion has reached an almost grotesque state of hallowed elation, shows up the sublime pull of competitive sports from a rarefied stance. And of course, it couldn't be honed up to that effect without the anachronistic electronic score by Greek musician Vangelis.
The core young cast boosts great empathy of comradeship and determination (although one can quibble not all of them is endowed with a professional runner's physique), Ben Cross and the late Ian Charleson are fine picks but a beaming Nigel Havers is the one who infuses something altruistically wonderful in his wide-eyed conviviality meanwhile Alice Krige is radiant in her silver- screen debut as Sybil, Abrahams' love-interest. Among the veteran bracket, John Gielgud and Lindsay Anderson delightfully pair up as a Cambridge duo of uppishness and Nigel Davenport leaves a pungent mark of cunningness as Lord Birkenhead, but it is Ian Holm's half-Arabic, half- Italian running coach Sam Mussabini takes the token Oscar nomination for the ensemble.
In hindsight, CHARIOTS OF FIRE is an ostensibly feel-good fare with all its edges being circumspectly smoothed, a dedicates piece of work to propagate sportsmanship and a not-too- subtle agitprop boasting UK's glory and heritage, as well as the consummate devotion of one's religion, a safe bet pandering to a more general, Western-leaning taste but of high-calibre production value, that is, to this day, still the winning formula to allure Oscar votes.
Husbands and Wives (1992)
are you a hedgehog or a fox?
Released in the hype of Allen and Farrow's breakup in the wake of his infamous Soon-Yi scandal, HUSBANDS AND WIVES archly and topically plumbs into the marital conundrums of two couples, Gabe (Allen) and Judy (Farrow, bookends her collaboration with Allen to the tune of 13), and their best friends Jack (Pollack) and Sally (Davis).
For one thing, the film adopts a jittery cinematographic style (aided by hand-held cameras and Steadi-cams) which certainly is not Allen's modus operandi, and lets rip the neurotic, taxing, unrelieved relationship squabbles to full throttle, inflamed by Jack and Sally's abrupt declaration of their separation after being married for over 15 years. Two different reactions ensure, Gabe retains his sangfroid facing a bolt from the blue but Judy apparently loses it, thinking that her closest friend has been keeping her marriage snags to herself, that seems to be a big blow to their time- honoured friendship, but on a more intuitive level (as later Sally astutely dissects), there is something deeply self-serving in Judy's reaction.
Gabe and Judy are jolted to scrutinize their own 10-year-young matrimony, where crevices start to crack open, here, Allen deploys another gimmick, a faux-documentary with character revealing their inner feelings in the form of an interview, Gabe confesses he is a sucker for "kamikaze women" (with trying smugness) until he meets Judy, whom he deciphers is a mastermind of passive-aggressive manipulation, aka. she always gets what she wants in the end. That is what happens, Allen, a professor in literary, becomes increasingly attracted by one of his student Rain (Lewis) while being self-aware of the clichéd professor-student entanglement. Meanwhile, Judy, lends a helping hand by introducing her newly single colleague Michael (Neeson, a disarmingly pleasurable presence) to Sally, who is fumed when she finds out Jack has moved in with his new lover Sam (Anthony), a young aerobics trainer, merely three weeks after their separation. But, what complicates the situation is, subconsciously, Judy carries a torch for the gentlemanlike Michael, so in the end of the day, a paradigm shift is bound to shatter the status quo.
Allen's script, as rapier-like as always in laying bare the intricate verities of gender politics and monogamous dilemma, eventually, plumps for a morally ego-boosting windup for Gabe (Allen's alter-ego) who has savored the tempting kiss from a young hottie he craves for, and then rebuffs her advance with all the dignity in the world to remain morally uncorrupted (which blows up in audience's face when juxtaposed with its sardonic divergence from reality), whereas for Judy, her seemingly happy ending betrays Gabe's own complacent shrewdness of knowing her too well, for my money, that's where this otherwise rather piquant and honest-to-goodness modern marriage assessment leaves an unsavory aftertaste, which actually has been lurking behind a majority of Allen's oeuvre.
But what makes HUSBANDS AND WIVIES head and shoulders over his lesser works is the cynosure of the cast, namely, the divine Judy Davis, an ever-so entrancing showstopper, revels in emitting of Sally's often self-contradictory but ultimately revealing emotional states with sheer intensity, veracity without forfeiting the salutary outpourings of humor and wits (her post-coital "hedgehogs and foxes" rumination is a gas!), Marisa Tomei, as excellent as she is in MY COUSY VINNY (1992), should hand over her Oscar to Mr. Davis, a blatant robbery in the Academy history. Whilst no one can steal the limelight from her, one must admit Sydney Pollack is quite a trouper in the other side of the camera as well, his outstanding two-hander with a feisty Lysette Anthony alone can effortlessly bust a gut, which only leaves, the story-line concerns Gabe and Judy pales in comparison with its pseudo-cerebral self-deception and self-doubt, no wonder Jack and Sally would not open up to them, they are much messier.
Forbidden Planet (1956)
An archetype Hollywood Sci-Fi monumental artifact shot in grand widescreen
An archetype Hollywood Sci-Fi monumental artifact shot in grand widescreen (2.55:1), FORBIDDEN PLANET is directed by Fred M. Wilcox, an old-hand for MGM, the story siphons its inspiration from Bard's THE TEMPEST, sets its 23rd century future world on a distant planet Altair IV, where Dr. Morbius (Pidgeon) is the last survivor of a human expedition 20 years ago, now lives with her 19- year-old daughter Altaira (Francis) and a robot named Robby, until a human starship arrives under the command of John Adams (Neilsen), to determine the fate of the expedition and furthermore to latch onto what happened to the highly intelligent indigenous race Krell, which had been mythically extirpated from the planet overnight 200,000 years ago.
As a trailblazer, the film's sign-of-its-times production design inevitably looks dated in its then cutting-edge matte-painting background, and leaves a first-time viewer an ambivalent feeling between emphatically majestic and obtrusively fake. The opening space voyage is conspicuously static with a all-white-male crew on board, buzzing around to self-seriously make believe their ultra-advanced actions in their dun uniforms. Once the crew meets Dr. Morbius, the story meanders into an expository and didactic mode with the latter holds forth to supplement them (and us) all the incredible discoveries meanwhile a rattling undertow of something insidious is lurking behind. What makes even today's audience tick is the following day, when Dr. Morbius proceeds with his edification and leads John and Lt. Doc Ostrow (Stevens) to an introductory journey into what remains of Krell's civilization, a ream of futuristic or cubistic superimposing designs which harks back directly to Fritz Lang's legendary METROPOLIS (1927), catches our yes, you might not buy the Krell's tall-tale, but the visual grandeur is indubitably remarkable.
In a cunning move, the monster which preys on the living souls is designed as an amorphous and invisible force, only materializes with a gleaming contour (achieved by a more expedient animation job than creating a humongous prop ex nihilo) during the force field combat, and just when one fears that the Krell mystery has been over-elaborated to anticipate a shark-jumping coda, it turns out to be quite surprisingly logical, an id monster derived from human's subconscious and intrinsic frailties, thank you, Mr. Shakespeare!
The cast is serviceable at its best and torpid at its best, Pidgeon subsists with his usual gravitas until the final reveal to face and suppress his inner demon; Nielsen is blessed with good luck to be cast in a leading role in his silver screen debut, although most of the time he is no more animated as the rest of his cohorts. The (visual) revelation comes from Francis, struts her pert figure in a prepossessing mini-skirt with a prelapsarian naiveté (Altaira has never met any humans before other than her father, so who can blame her to cozy up with those female-hankering crew members?), when her pet tiger cannot recognize her and prance on her after she experiences indecent human contact (not more than some random petting), here is a trenchant allegory to the innocence lost in the Genesis. Of course, there is the iconic Robby the Robot (misused on the movie's poster as a menacing creature), the forefather of all the future screen robots and androids alike, who is still in a very gauche and movement-hobbling stage, but his integrity and proteanism is so desirable.
Finally, the omnipresent and otherworldly electronic tonalities from avant-garde musician couple Louise and Bebe Barron is another major novelty stemmed from this Sci-Fi classic, a stunning achievement so integral to the film's success and would inspire numberless emulators to forever change the film score soundscape.
Manchester by the Sea (2016)
a contemplative continuation in the aftermath of a latter-day Greek tragedy
American dramatist Kenneth Lonergan's third feature, after his career has been punishingly stalled by the ill-fated MARGARET (2011), made in 2005 as a much-anticipated follow-up to his sterling debut YOU CAN COUNT ON ME (2000), then embroiled in the lawsuit purgatory with the film's producers and only would be permitted for a limited release 6 years after, MANCHESTER BY THE SEA impacts as a resounding comeback and it is as good as you can get while toiling away with thumping grief and inconsolable guilt.
Lee Chandler (Affleck), a building janitor in Boston, he is the dour and withdrawn everyman type who distances himself from rest of the world and occasionally courts unwarranted bar brawl to unleash the smothering anger, so routinely the film will slowly mine into his profoundly buried tale- of-woe which would explain how he has fetched up to the current walking-dead state, and in this case, it is a helluva calamity, the most heart-rending accident could ever happen to a parent, and he has no one but himself to answer for. Receiving the news that his brother Joe (Chandler) died in a sudden heart attack, brings Lee back to his hometown, the titular Manchester-by-the-Sea where flashback adroitly interleaves into the narrative to refresh Lee's memory (edited with pellucid correlations with what he experiences now) where the concealed secret incubates, and would eventually unfolds in the murky, snow night accompanied by Tomaso Albinoni and Remo Giazotto's ADAGIO IN G MINOR, a sublime sequence transmits a synesthetic frisson which can knock dead its armchair viewers.
In Joe's will, he names Lee to be the guardian of his son, the 16-year-old high-school jock Patrick (Hedges), which takes Lee aback, a resultant, seemingly life-affirming uncle-nephew bonding process takes its spin sensibly on veracity and wrestles with both Patrick's suppressed grievance toward his father's demise (Lee's heart condition has been long diagnosed, so that it is more like a time-bomb ticking situation), and Lee's attempt to re-settle in the town on the face of aghast memories and unrelieved penitence, in a pivotal scene, when Lee's ex-wife Randi (Williams) pleads him for forgiveness and reconciliation after she has been finally capable of moving on to form a new family and embrace a new life, but feels obliged to proffer some extrication for him too, but things are different for the culpable party, not everyone can make peace with the past, however rational it might sound, some pain can be alleviated through time but other stays, thus one must brave himself to live with it for the rest of his life, that is the affirming life-philosophy Lonergan tries to pass on to his audience through studiously delving into the realistic double-bind based on an über-dramatic back-bone, which appears to be an abiding mythos in all his three directorial works to date.
Casey Affleck finds his footing in inhabiting Lee with a simmering intensity underneath his alternatively inscrutable/apathetic/distraught veneer, a performance is so aptly up his alley (a combo of hang-dog frustration and whimpering elocution) and to call it the performance of the year wouldn't be such a stretch. Michelle Williams, shoe-horned in a peripheral role, but manifests herself as a sniveling and imploring scene-stealer just in one scene, she dangles us with immense curiosity about how her character has gone through the catastrophe, but essentially this film is Lee's story. Lucas Hedges gets a windfall for being cast in a plum role and nominated for an Oscar, which could be a double-edged sword for the future of his budding career, but as credible and affecting as his portrayal is, the credit should mostly given for Lonergan's well-rounded script of a rather bratty teenager; also Kyle Chandler is virtually next-in-line for a renaissance on the big screen after starring a string of high-caliber Oscar-baits, from ARGO, ZERO DARK THIRTY (both in 2012), to THE WOLF OF WALL STREET (2013), CAROL (2015) and now this, all in small roles but his presence looms larger each time.
The cinematography is bracingly crisp and un-showy, a modest production design and an unobtrusive score borrows many classical pieces, MANCHESTER BY THE CITY is a contemplative drama in the aftermath of a latter-day Greek tragedy, which elevates Lonergan's status as one of the most outstanding cinematic story-teller currently from USA soil, and one can bet, Matt Damon must secretly rue the day that he couldn't commit himself to this project which would have earned him a coveted Oscar statuette as an actor, and in hindsight, his preference to star in Zhang Yimou's Chinese monster fantasy THE GREAT WALL (2016) now looks like a dumb decision.
La donna scimmia (1964)
The phenomenon is finally eternal!
A competition entry in Cannes from Italy in 1964, this Marco Ferreri Black-and-White satire cashes in on the real-life story of Julia Pastrana (1834-1860), an indigenous woman from Mexico, whose face and body was covered with straight black hair due to an undiagnosed genetic condition, and was exploited in freak shows as a hybrid between an ape and a woman.
The story is transposed to Naples, where Antonio (Tognazzi), a street-smart showman, alights on a hair-covered Maria (Girardot) in a convent (the script conveniently skates over her provenance by claiming her as an orphan), and takes her in for public exhibition as the so-called "ape woman", but what Maria is is nothing like an ape, she is simply an extra hirsute woman, no feral predisposition or mondo sauciness whatsoever, she is very aware of her unorthodox appearance and never expects a life of normalcy, at any rate, she tries to please Antonio in their act because it is their bread-and- butter, even reluctantly apes the behavior of a chimpanzee in the zoo. When a suspect rich man wants to study her and over-insists that she must retain her virginity, an upstanding Maria rebuffs the deal whilst Antonio is much interested in the financial gain.
Imposed by the convent, the bachelor Antonio has to marry Maria to keep her with him, up till then Maria has developed a gentle affection (awakening sexuality in a more blunt language) towards Antonio whereas the latter still chastely intends to remain their relationship completely business- like, only to soon to surrender in sharing their tiny bed. A sortie in Paris, working their duo-act in a strip club, ensues and ends up with Maria becoming pregnant, after the struggle between abortion and otherwise, Pastrana's sad denouement is faithfully imitated into the movie with an uninviting coda where stillborn, death and embalmment are the keywords, all of a sudden levity turns into a biting critique of humanity, Ferreri never compromised in that regard.
Basically a two-hander, Tognazzi is well in his element with his slick impression and occasionally, considerable benevolence seeps through his non-threatening nonchalance. Girardot, on the other hand, is hampered in the slipshod make-up (understandably, the movie is half-an-century old), her hairy physiognomy is nonetheless non-too-startling so as to pander to a wider audience, not to mention a stripping sequence to gratifying male gaze. As a satire, we must admire Ferreri's guts to preserve "the phenomenon is eternal" sting, but as a cinematic creation, THE APE WOMAN is a bog-standard treatment gussied up by an alluring premise it short-changes in realisation.
Juste la fin du monde (2016)
Dolan's middle-road residing
Canne's 2016 Grand Prize of the Jury winner, Canadian wunderkind Xavier Dolan's sixth feature, IT'S ONLY THE END OF THE WORLD is based on Jean-Luc Lagarce's semi-autobiographical theatrical piece, and its closest reference within Dolan's canon is TOM AT THE FARM (2013), adapted from Michel Marc Bouchard's play, a throbbing drama predominately enclosed within a single household. And this time, Dolan goes even further, not only the story is almost exclusively locked inside a family house with five characters, the time-frame is also condensed just within a few hours (bar some sketchy flashback).
In the opening monologue, inside a plane, Louise (Ulliel), a 34-year-old writer, confesses his impending death (from an unspecified disease), and the destination of his trip, to visit his family which he has left 12 years old for the first time. At first, it seems Dolan expunges any signifiers of digital technology to avoid signposting a specific time for the story, it could happen well in early 90s when Lagarce wrote the play, or in current days, but when DRAGOSTEA DIN TEI merrily pops up, the effort dissipates immediately, yet, a more relevant distinction is the once-tabooed homosexuality has taken a back seat in the narrative (dissimilar to TOM AT THE FARM), instead, Dolan archly toys with his opening gambit: Louis is going to drop the bomb onto his kin, and god knows how they will react?
In the ensuing over-deliberate familial wrangle, this tantalizing question which is blatantly deployed as a trigger of viewers' curiosity, has ultimately evaded the drama, what Dolan musters is a series of bromide-suffusing tête-à-têtes between Louis and his mother Martine (Baye), younger sister Suzanne (Seydoux), elder brother Antoine (Cassel) and Catherine (Cotillard), Antoine's wife, the sister-in-law he has never met hitherto, and at other time, a cacophony of the usual suspects generates on its own, meanwhile Louis remains excruciatingly tight-lipped through and through. A gaunt-looking Gaspard Ulliel gives a commendable performance, straitjacketed in his diction, the character is solely built on affective miens and minute gestures which demands taxing physical effort to pad out the lacunae in Dolan's meditative close-ups (Dolan really loves Ulliel's model- contour and blues-imbued visage) and what's more incredible is Ulliel instills a visceral pang of agony into Louis' perturbed psyche in the face of a massively elliptical story-line.
Vincent Cassel, as ever so rebarbative in beastly aggro, gets an about-face display of bravura in the blistering altercation consummated near the finish-line, don't judge the book by its cover, never, his Antoine is another victim in the aftermath. Léa Seydoux and Nathalie Baye, both send up impressive theatrics of trivial verbosity and rapier-like acrimony to an exuberant extent. Which leaves Marion Cotillard's Catherine, being the only outsider in their bloodline, engages with a more discombobulated outlook in her timorous muttering and courteous self-consciousness, which is not a big stretch for the Oscar-winner, maybe that's why Dolan compensates with overlong glamour gaze into Catherine's dew-eyed comeliness (why will she marry a brute like Antoine, one cannot help wondering?), playing out tacitly with Louis' soulful kindness.
We have only been granted sporadic glances into Louis' past in between (in the form of Dolan's emblematic slo-motion, moist and smoky grandeur), there is no buried secrets to be disinterred, no irreconcilable feud running in consanguinity, we have no idea neither what pushed Louis away from home years ago nor what has been keeping him from divulging his tidings now, yes, human emotions are sophisticated, but they are inherently follows certain logical pattern no matter who flimsy it could be, if it is Dolan's intention to obfuscate and equivocate and leave us to pattern the jigsaw, he has done a splendid job.
Opening with Camille's poignant HOME IS WHERE IT HURTS and rounding off with Moby's nostalgia-infused NATURAL BLUES, Dolan's latest offering is a tad shambolic in bootstrapping its central drama and overindulges in its artistic license which is dwarfed in front of TOM AT THE FARM or MOMMY (2014), but on the other hand, it doesn't veers into narcissism and smugness as unbearable as in HEARTBEATS (2010), a middle-road residing might not be a bad thing to cool down Dolan's hyped auteur-status, so we might be more poised for another incandescence along the line, inevitably.