Archives for August 2013

Thérèse (2012)

It has been a while since I first saw Thérèse, French director Claude Miller’s final film. Upon seeing it, I made the decision to sit on putting together my reaction piece, for I felt almost certain that Thérèse was destined to get even the most limited theatrical run here in the States for the following three reasons:

  1. It’s French
  2. It was an ‘Official Selection’ of the 2012 Cannes Film Festival
  3. It stars Audrey Tautou

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Audrey Tautou assumes the eponymous role, itself sourced from the 1927 novel (titled Thérèse Desqueyroux) written by François Mauriac. Interestingly enough,  Thérèse was previously adapted in 1962. But I digress– we are here to talk about the most recent version. So, without further ado, WHAT exactly is this film about?

Well, here you go (via the official synopsis):

Thérèse is a heroine from the same school as other literary heroines, such as Madame Bovary or Anna Karenina. Married less for love than for convenience, Thérèse feels suffocated by her marriage to Bernard (Gilles Lellouche). Although she is afforded a comfortable country life, she soon grows tired and her frustrations sets her mind in motion. This desire to break free is exacerbated by the arrival of Thérèse’s best friend Anne and Bernard’s sister (Anaïs Demoustier), who promptly falls madly in love with a handsome young Portuguese man who is deemed ‘inappropriate’ by the family. Anne’s simmering passion makes Thérèse feel like she is missing out on something in her life. She sees Anne’s passion leads her to go to any length to keep her lover by her side. Soon, Thérèse begins her own fight against the oppressive Desqueyroux family.

Wow! That surely is a mouthful – Anna Karenina and/or Madame Bovary?

As for my own reaction? I have not read the source material so I may lose a little of the story’s context. But from what I am able to synthesize from the film is that thematically, there is a common idea that all of these ‘heroines’ in their own way, are trying to challenge the status quo and rise above their repressive, provincial lives. I don’t think I am spoiling anything for my readers to say that in end, in all these examples, unfortunately, circumstances do not end well for the protagonist and they are left to pay for their insolence.

Looking at the film in terms of its complete execution, let me just say this – while the performances were all well-played, I left the screening with an overwhelming cold response, lacking any emotion. I can only hope to assume that in part, this is what the director Claude Miller was going for – to create a stolid world in so much allowing us, the audience to feel what the titular character feels, and in turn, evoking a sympathetic response so we understand and possibly forgive the lengths Thérèse goes to break free from her imprisonment. I cannot even say I felt ANY response to her actions (either positive or negative), I just felt like wow, that sure is crazy to both her actions and the subsequent fallout including the film’s conclusion. Again, this reaction is based solely on how I feel the film has presented the narrative. I have a feeling that the source material would go a long ways in getting me to a point of at least understanding Thérèse’s plight. Like I said, in the end, my reaction and response will always circle back ’round to the barren cold feeling that jumped off the screen while I was watching the film.

On a positive note, the film’s primary setting of south west France looks absolutely lovely.

Thérèse opens in cinemas today (23 August).

On Location: Pennsylvania Station in the Movies

During TCM’s wonderful Summer Under The Stars film festival last week, I was watching Hitchcock’s Spellbound, when the first scene at Pennsylvania Station took place; in that moment, I was reminded of the former grandeur and splendor awarded to Midtown Manhattan transportation hub:

That got me thinking: how many other films (besides Spellbound) were shot at the once iconic location? I say “once iconic” because as anyone who has visited the station in its current incarnation can attest, it is anything but grand and architecturally masterful.

What my research produced was pretty sweet! A lot of you film enthusiasts beat me to the punch and did your own retrospectives on films shots in and around the landmark. So instead of retreading already covered ground, I am using this post as a shout-out of sorts, highlight a few articles that do Penn Station proud:

Here is a clip that merges several scenes from Hollywood films that use the landmark as a location (whether actually shot on location or reproduced and filmed on a studio lot).

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For further insight of what has since been lost, watch this short clip of the early history of the station:

Lastly, read this 2010 blog post from the Brooklyn Museum.

Prince Avalanche (2013)

With the exception of Undertow and the beginning of his critically noteworthy George Washington (so that doesn’t count), I obviously have not seen many David Gordon Green films. And yet, I am very aware of his “varied” cinematic CV. I defer to his IMDB entry for further evidence.

It has been said in many circles that visually, his films owe a great deal to the photographically aesthetic of one Terrence Malick. Check out this article from earlier this year that examines the Terrence Malick Effect. The expectation of carrying such a moniker means is that his films should be equally panoramic, picture perfect views that evoke a visual poetry.

I say all this as a preamble (or ramble, whichever you prefer) for my look at his latest feature, Prince Avalanche.

Starring Emile Hirsch (Lance) and Paul Rudd (Alvin), the film takes place among the burnt out forests of rural Texas during the 1980s. Lance and Alvin are part of the road crew assigned with the mundane task of painting highway traffic lines on the remote highway that cuts through the devastated landscape. For the audience we are taken through this daily ritual that serves as the backdrop to bear witness to Alvin and Lance’s relationship and the comedic (and slightly dramatic) ebbs and flows that result from their interaction. A major part of what makes their relationship intriguing is that they could not be any more dissimilar in temperament and situation in life. Matters are further complicated by the fact that Alvin’s girlfriend in Lance’s older brother and that Lance got the job at her urging.

As someone who is a little more familiar with the work of Malick, if I were to do a comparative analysis of this film’s style, I would say there might be traces of Malick’s influence. Cinematographer and frequent Green collaborator Tim Orr makes a large area devastated by the wildfires feels much more intimate in its natural closeups and how the environment plays along with our protagonists.

A bright spot of the film is the performance of Joyce Payne who, prior to this film had no acting experience. Earlier, during the location scouting, the filmmakers came upon they came upon Payne as she was rummaging through the remains of her house that succumbed to the wildfires. As a result of the encounter, she was asked to take part in Prince Avalanche in the role that we see on the screen, as an enigmatic, other-worldly figure who captures the audience with her recounting her own experiences. All of her work in the film is improvised.

Similarly enjoying was the occasional presence of bombastic Lance LeGault’s truck driver. On a more somber note, LeGault passed away shortly after the film wrapped.

In the end, I am at a bit of a loss for which side I come down on this film (is it necessary to come down on one side or another really?). I did chuckle a few times at the relationship dynamic being played out on screen (credit to Hirsch and Rudd), but not necessarily enough to say that I was overcome with laughter at any moment. But that is not to say I did that Avalanche did not pass the time in an entertaining fashion.

Also, the pacing of the film may not be to everyone’s pace. The story moves along, but not fast enough for some.

As I finished collecting my notes on Prince Avalanche, I took a moment to see what a few others have said about the film. Overwhelmingly the response has been positive, with many calling this a return to form for Green. That may be accurate, but without my seeing his full body of work (although I suspect bigger studio productions such as Pineapple Express, The Sitter and Your Highness may be first many minds as a few wrong turns on the road), I cannot levy such a judgment.

For folks who have seen his full oeuvre, maybe they can share their thoughts on the film in the Comments section, please?

Prince Avalanche is currently in select cinemas.

 

Things Don’t Look Good for ‘The Counselor’ (Official Trailer)

Happy Friday folks! Yeah I am a little late to the party but check out the latest trailer for the Ridley Scott-directed, Cormac MacCarthy-penned thriller, The Counselor:
 

 

Here is the film’s synopsis (as per the film’s website):
Legendary filmmaker Ridley Scott and Pulitzer Prize winning author Cormac McCarthy (No Country for Old Men) have joined forces in the motion picture thriller THE COUNSELOR, starring Michael Fassbender, Penélope Cruz, Cameron Diaz, Javier Bardem, and Brad Pitt. McCarthy, making his screenwriting debut and Scott interweave the author’s characteristic wit and dark humor with a nightmarish scenario, in which a respected lawyer’s one-time dalliance with an illegal business deal spirals out of control.

Compared to the previous teaser, this one (obviously) has a little more exposition and provides a little more context as to what Fassbender, Bardem, Pitt and company are up to. Well, we will find out on October 25th when The Counselor is scheduled to drop into a cinema near you.

Tuesday’s Overlooked: Submarine (2010)

My pick this week is the BAFTA-nominated directorial debut of comedian Richard Ayoade, best known by many from his work on the cult television series The IT Crowd.

Submarine is based on a 2008 novel and stars Craig Roberts, Yasmin Paige, Sally Hawkins, Noah Taylor and Paddy Considine. It is mostly a “coming-of-age” story about a teen’s (Roberts) first love (Paige). The “B” story center’s around the youth’s home life and his parents’ (Hawkins, Taylor) complicated relationship, exacerbated by the introduction of when a newcomer (Considine).

Please don’t let my rather pedestrian description deter you, although it generally falls into the aforementioned tried and tested film genre, it is worth a look in thanks to some convincing performances by the entire cast as well as the direction of Ayoade.

(Fun Fact: Submarine was produced by Ben Stiller, who would later co-star with Ayoade in 2012’s The Watch).

Although the film is set in 1986, the cinematography really evokes a feeling (in my opinion anyway) of the previous decade. I may be mixing up my terms here, but there is a combined tea-stained, cinéma vérité look to the film that works very well for me.

Granted, this is definitely not a picture for everyone. Although there are quite the number of funny moments, Submarine maintains a fairly dark tone. I recall one review I read, upon the film’s release, having drawn parallels to another similarly themed coming of age tale, Harold and Maude. Now I cannot directly attest to that, having not seen Harold and Maude except for the odd movie clips, it is a very offbeat outing, so if you like your British comedies on the kookier than usual side, then I suggest you take a look at Submarine.

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Also make sure to check out Todd Mason’s blog Sweet Freedom for other overlooked titles.

Tuesday’s Overlooked: Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day (2008)

This week’s overlooked selection is a film I have only recently had the pleasure of seeing, and am all the happier for the experience. Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day is a “classic Hollywood-styled” romantic comedy directed by British television/film director Bharat Nalluri. The story is based on a 1938 novel of the same name and adapted for the screen by co-writers by David Magee (Life of Pi) and Simon Beaufoy (Slumdog Millionaire, The Full Monty).

As I mentioned above, Miss Pettigrew is a charming film that harkens to cinema of a bygone era. I instantly think about Frank Capra’s Lady for a Day and its “remake” Pocketful of Miracles (the latter starring Bette Davis), where the audience sees the transformation of a down and out middle-aged woman.

While the circumstances and particulars are slightly different (here the titular Miss Pettigrew is a down on her luck English nanny who mistakenly is assigned a new “charge” in the form of American entertainer Delysia Lafosse), but the end results are the same. One of the things that make Miss Pettrigrew stand out is its talented cast, headed by the wonderful Frances McDormand (Miss Pettigrew) and Amy Adams (Delysia Lafosse). The supporting cast includes Lee Pace (a slight revelation for me here), Shirley Henderson, Ciaran Hinds and Mark Strong.

As a fan of classic and contemporary cinema, I constantly ask myself how successfully a film’s time and place can be replicated without coming across as too forced, anachronistic or lacking in charm. Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day does not suffer from any of these issues in my opinion. It was obviously made by someone who understands the genre that charmed audiences in the 1930s and 1940s.

Check out Miss Pettigrew‘s Photo Gallery below:

Be sure to take a look at some other cinematic highlights for the week on Todd Mason’s blog Sweet Freedom.