La Délicatasse (Delicacy), 2012: A French Confection

Over the weekend, I had the pleasure of attending a screening of the film La Délicatasse (Delicacy) at the new, 20 seat Screening Room of The Picture House. All I can saw is wow! I want this setup in the “home cinema of my mind.”

This film is all about moving on and tells the story of Nathalie (Audrey Tautou) and her (in)ability to move on from the loss of her beloved husband. As is my experience with French cinema, this is not handled in the most straightforward of fashion. There are unreal transitions into the imagination – some used to compress time while others are established as a means of reflection. In addition, there were a lot more lighthearted moments that I expected, especially given the subject matter.

While I would not place myself in the category of Tautou fan-girl, this film provided further evidence to me what her appeal is. I say this in a non-pejorative tone – she embodies all that I envision as being quintessentially French. I was fixated to the screen, in particular wondering where I could find those cute shoes she wears in the film.

But I digress – among the things I liked about the film were the acting, lead by Ms. Tautou and the music – it was wonderfully integrated into the scenes to reflect the mood and action happening onscreen.

While unconventionality of how (and with whom) she has decided to move on is very clichéd, it is handled in such a manner that it did not detract from my enjoyment at watching the film.

So if you like your tragedy served with moments of humor, whimsy and a lot of French, then this is the film for you.


The film is directed by David Foenkinos, Stephane Foenkinos with a screenplay by David Foenkinos, based on his novel.

Quick Reaction to “Prometheus”

I will save the “good stuff” for my upcoming LAMBcast. But I thought I would take a moment to reflect on some of what I saw on Tuesday evening.

Things I liked about Prometheus:

  • The marketing: I know some people were a bit overwhelmed by the viral marketing campaign. In fact there were even times when I thought that it may be too much. But after watching the film I must admit that it really did not give too much away but instead provided some good context for the proceedings on the screen.
  • The acting: especially the thespian triumvirate of Theron, Fassbender and Elba. Oh yeah and Pearce, too
  • The surprisingly immersive 3D experience. Prometheus one of the few films that I did not mind employing the gimmick use of technology.
  • The set design: Director Ridley Scott outdid himself with the set pieces on this film it was in a word – beautiful.

The things I did not like about the film:

  • Plot details: I feel like there was too much stuff crammed into the film; a few plot details could have fallen by the wayside for the sake of a clearer narrative.
  • An ending seemingly designed to hint at taking the story further (likely a studio version) because I cannot imagine Scott would think of the Alien ‘progenitor’ all by himself.
  • Not enough Rafe Spall :)

Overall, despite some flaws, I enjoyed the film.

One Day I Was Watching “One Day” …

My goodness. This weekend while channel surfing, I stumbled upon a film that until this point, I had successfully avoided – the Jim Sturgess Anne Hathaway tearjerker One Day. Despite its best intentions the film just did not do anything for me. Well, there was that wince inducing moment near the end that I did have a slight chuckle. However, I do not think that was the response the filmmakers desired.

The story of One Day is adapted from the bestselling novel by David Nicholls (also wrote the screenplay). Upon getting together on graduation night, Dexter (Jim Sturgess) and Emma (Anne Hathaway) develop a friendship that we, the audience, drop in on, on the same day July 15th (St. Swithin’s Day), over the course of 20 years. Whereas in the novel, each chapter chronicles a single year, the film does not have this luxury so the narrative skips a few years at a time, still focused on the “one day”. This aspect of the movie is well executed.

The performances overall were quite good; the excellent supporting cast includes Rafe Spall, Romola Garai and Patricia Clarkson. The one slight disappointment is Ms. Hathaway. This is not entirely her fault for, if I am honest, the kerfuffle in the media at the time of the film’s theatrical release regarding her Leeds accent was a bit of a distraction when watching her onscreen.

The film is wonderfully shot under the direction of Lone Scherfig (An Education, Italian for Beginners). So one would think that this is a wonderful formula for an emotive, romantic piece. But, as stated in my introductory paragraph, this was not the case.

What escapes me at this point is why, for the life of me, I walked away from the film thinking it ended as a bit of a mess. It had so much potential – unique narrative device, a great cast and director, but misfired where it mattered most – eliciting the necessary response from the viewer (me).

This is where you, fair readers, come in – what am I missing? Did you see One Day? If so, let me know what you think in the comments section below.

Think Like a Man is a Winner in My Book

Based on the book Act Like a Lady, Think Like a Man by comedian Steve Harvey, the film Think Like a Man is an ensemble rom-com that distills the spirit of the New York Times’ bestseller (adapted by Keith Merryman and David A. Newman) into a pleasant and entertaining comedy.

At the beginning of the film, we are introduced to the (male) characters by their common ‘types':

  • MOMMA’S BOY (Terrence J),
  • THE PLAYER (Romany Malco),
  • THE NON-COMMITTAL (Jerry Ferrara), and
  • THE DREAMER (Michael Ealy).

Rounding out the sextet are the HAPPILY MARRIED MAN (Gary Owen) and the HAPPIER DIVORCED MAN (Kevin Hart).

After the introductions, we see “love’s battlefield” play out in all its glory as the women* in the men’s lives (and apparently every other woman) use Harvey’s text to get what they want out of their relationships. The men soon catch on and decide to subvert the women’s plotting … well we know where this story is headed … Throw in a couple of surprise cameos for good measure, and you have a recipe for a fun night at the movies.

I surprised myself just at how much I laughed out loud at what I saw on screen. The film manages to develop several of the subplots while telling a larger story.

After the missteps into superhero land (Fantastic Four franchise), Tim Story does a good job at handling this comedic material.

On the acting side, I guess the point of an ensemble piece is that no one individual stands out among the rest. But in this film, the clearly Kevin Hart is at the center of what holds the story together.

If I were to point out any shortcomings I would just say this – it is a movie, so do not expect any real earth-shattering revelations about members of the opposing sex. Sometimes you just have to go with it and enjoy what you are watching on screen.

In the realm of cinematic ventures into romantic comedies, I’d say that this one holds up pretty well.


*The women are Meagan Good, Regina Hall, Gabrielle Union and Taraji P. Henson.

“Mirror, Mirror” On the Wall, is this Movie Fair at All?

Mirror, Mirror is live, fresh take on the Snow White fairytale. This statement alone begs me to ask, “Is this necessary?” and “what new life can be brought to draw folks in?” Well, as directed by Tarsem Singh (Immortals, The Cell) with a screenplay by Marc Klein (Serendipity), Mirror, Mirror hopes to deliver to its audience a family friendly film that has just the right blend of humor, action and suspense to leave all audience members leaving the theater satisfied with their viewing experience. That frankly is quite a hill to climb, and at least for me, it ultimately missed the mark.

As I mentioned in my opening paragraph, Mirror, Mirror is a re-imagining of the classic fairytale with more than a few twists – one of these twists includes the characterization and dynamic between Snow White (Lily Collins) and The Handsome Prince Alcott (Armie Hammer). Snow White is mainly a sweet, retiring orphan forced to live under her Evil Queen of a stepmother’s (Julia Roberts) rule, but when banished from the kingdom and left for dead, gains an independent spirit and becomes a force to be reckoned with. For his part, the Prince is somewhat emasculated when compared to his source material’s counterpart. When they are together, it is portrayed more as a partnership of equals; there is no real “rescuing” here. For an added touch, the Seven Dwarfs are no longer the affable woodland dwellers that reside in many an imagination. Here, they are a group of gruff, thieving, lawless outsiders, rejected the kingdom when the Evil Queen declares them as not being “pretty enough.” Not to worry – this is a modern telling of the story after all, so there is a light at the end of the tunnel.

So it begs to be asked, just who is this film for? It seems to position itself with the tween crowd, as some of the humor and references may be over the head of anyone younger than 10 years of age. Therein lies the difficulty of course.

I should state for the record one certainty – I am NOT the target demographic for this film. Luckily for me, there was a group of Girl Scouts seated in my row at the press screening I attended last week. Now if I use them (particularly the older, apparently teenaged girls) as a barometer of the film’s ‘aims,’ then YES, this was a fun and entertaining film. Even some of the adults (including myself) had a chuckle or two. But for everyone else outside and in between I am not so sure. Note that there are a couple of tense/threatening/imperiled moments in the film, but nothing extraordinary. However, as I have alluded to, keep in mind that some of the material may not be suited for your progeny (Note: the film was rated PG).

Given the material, the acting by the ensemble was perfectly adequate, but nothing extraordinary. And for as much was made of Julia Roberts “going bad” in her portrayal of the Evil Queen, but as you may have guessed by now, it is principally a comedy evil.

I am familiar with but have not seen any of Mr. Singh’s previous films that include the “swords-and-sandals” romp Immortals as well at the Jennifer Lopez psychological thriller The Cell. Based on his previous work, I would say that selecting him to do a film such as Mirror, Mirror is a curious choice. But hey, Robert Rodriguez was able to helm the relatively successful Spy Kids franchise.

On the bright side (and I mean REALLY bright), the costumes and sets were gorgeous. However, there was heavy reliance on CGI – a little too much at times for my taste.

In the end, the sums don’t add up for me, I am afraid.

 

Food For Thought: A Look At “Forks Over Knives” (2011)

For months, my fellow meat-eating brother was trying to get me watch this Forks Over Knives. And now I have.

The main framework for Forks Over Knives is the story of the personal journeys of pioneering researchers in the field, Dr. T. Colin Campbell and Dr. Caldwell Esselstyntaken. The story is moved forward when the film’s writer and director, Lee Fulkerson, after receiving a startling diagnosis, consults with specialists who recommend he begin a whole foods, plant-based (no meat, no dairy).

From this point onward, the film makes the case for the claims of Drs. Campbell and Esselstyntaken regarding the ability of  the plant-based diet to protect and, in many cases, reverse, several chronic conditions that medical science have told us can only be taken care of in pill form.

The film lays this information in stark contrast alongside the debilitating health affects the ‘Western Diet’ has had on people in America and the worldwide. It achieves this by challenging the conventional wisdom we have about what is ‘good for us.’

For anyone who has even a passing interest in what they put in their bodies, the information is not necessarily new. But it takes on an interesting and ‘info-taining’ dimension through the data shown and personal narratives from people whose lives have been changed and saved from altering what they eat.

On the downside, if you are someone not so convinced by the arguments for adopting a plant-based diet, the delivery in this program could come across as being a bit preachy. You can walk away feeling inadequate about the choices you have made. It does not help that when we see folks shopping, they are often seen at Whole Paycheck … I mean Whole Foods; for many people, this is not the most accessible of food sources.

In addition, the alternative perspective is given very little screen time, which is understandable, but I would have liked to see both sides of the dietary argument presented in a more balanced way.

One final observation – the counter-argument often made against those consuming a plant-based diet is that its practitioners often lack (or are deficient in) several key vitamins and nutrients. It would have been nice to see them (possibly) refute this contention and prove that yes, you can get all the essential nutritional content from the FOK (forks over knives) eating plan. I suppose the producers presumed that the evidence they presented in the films as it related to disease prevention and treatment is enough to win skeptics over. And let’s face it – that IS a very strong argument in its favor.

Personally, as someone who eats meat (although I have had brief ‘flirtations’ with vegetarianism) I found this doc to be very informative and from what I can tell, based on convincing science. In addition, as someone who lost one parent to cancer and is currently dealing with the chronic (but manageable, if not reversible) illness of the surviving parent, the presenters and key players have made a very convincing case. So much so, that I very easily can see myself tweaking some of my eating habits and persuading my family to implement some of what was presented.

In the end, am I convinced enough to TOTALLY give up all meat-based products? Not likely. But information=power and it allows us to understand and better evaluate food choices.

Friends with Kids (2012)

We could see this coming a mile away … off the heels of Bridesmaids’ success last year, one could expect to see a few derivative films that a) kinda-sorta follow a similar theme b) featured many of the same cast members or c) both a) and b).  Friends with Kids has appeared to go for option c).

Directed, written by and starring Jennifer Westfeldt (Kissing Jessica Stein), the story centers on three sets of friends – two married couples (Maya Rudolph/Chris O’Dowd and Kristen Wiig/Jon Hamm) and the obligatory “platonic friends”(Westfeldt and Adam Scott). We first see the married folks’ lives as so cool – living in NYC, footloose and fancy-free and vowing not to be ” on of those ” parents when the blessed moment arrives. Fast-forward a few years and low and behold, we see just how their lives have shaken out as a result of producing offspring. It is obvious that both couples are frazzled (and one couple even lives in Brooklyn, very annoying); but while one set appear to be holding it together, another relationship is crumbling under the child-rearing pressure.

Observing this alteration in their friends’ lives, our chaste couple confesses to the other their desire to have a kid of their own, but without the strings of being romantically involved. Solution? Let’s have one together and share the responsibility and avoid all that messiness. This should SO work, especially since they are not in the least bit sexually attracted to one another [wink]. What could possibly go wrong?

Well for the remainder of the film, we find out just what happens – we see them try to juggle the challenges of raising a child while at the same time being in pursuit of their respective “ones” – enter Megan Fox and Edwards Burns, maybe? I will leave it to you to fill in the remaining plot details.

I entered this film with rather lukewarm expectations and they were in fact met. Sure, it had its chuckle-worthy moments (mostly courtesy of the Rudolph/O’Dowd interplay – Rudolph is a new ‘favorite’ of mine) but on the whole this film did not work for me. I cannot pinpoint exactly what left me feeling so ambivalent, but here are a few contenders:

  • I have grown tired of this stylized view of life in the big city (à la Friends). Even my friends that live like this do not live like this, if you catch my drift.
  • I was never entirely sold on the premise of the main characters becoming parents in the first place.
  • Maybe it was the mood I was in as a result of the circumstances surrounding the screening I attended (more on that tomorrow).

Taking everything into account, this is a film that I could have waited and seen at home. So that is my recommendation: if you must see this film, let it be a rental.

 

FRIENDS WITH KIDS

(2012)

Jennifer Westfeldt

Jennifer Westfeldt

Starring: Adam Scott, Jennifer Westfeldt, Jon Hamm, Kristen Wiig, Maya Rudolph, Chris O’Dowd, Megan Fox, Edward Burns

 

 

A Look At: Les adieux à la reine (Farewell, My Queen)

Les adieux à la reine (Farewell, My Queen) is Benoît Jacquot’s account of the final days of King Louis XVI’s reign as the French Revolution takes hold. Based on the novel of the same name by Chantal Thomas, the story is seen through the eyes of Marie Antoinette’s (Diane Kruger) reader Sidonie (played by Léa Seydoux). Of  course no tale of the French royal court under any circumstances, would be complete without some royal dalliances and court intrigue.

While watching this film, I was reminded that we are bearing witness to historical events and not just simply revisiting them, like one does in a book or a museum. During the Q&A session that followed our screening, Jacquot emphasized how important using this convention was in telling his story. In his opinion, it was important that the audience feel like they are in the ‘here and now,’ watching the events unfold as a matter of fact, with no reference of what may lie ahead. After all, as we live in the present, that’s it – we live in complete ignorance of the impact minor events have on a ‘big picture.’

Jacquot accomplished the above to great effect by doing what is somewhat of a ‘trademark’ of his – a reliance on a very relaxed photographic style; this really gives the film a sense of the present and roots it in a reality not often felt or experienced in a period piece.

In terms of star-power, the headliner is obviously going to be the internationally known German actress Diane Kruger. However, the true star of the film is Léa Seydoux and her subtle portrayal of Sidonie, the Queen’s Reader;  she is our way into this world of increasing chaos and instability.  It should be noted that in the source material, Sidonie is quite older and is giving her account via a series of flashback. This was a conscious decision made on the part of the director, with the author’s approval.

As for ‘Marie Antoinette,’ Diane Kruger brings a mercurial tone to her French monarch that at times makes the audience almost pity her. But then a decision in the final act brings the audience back to earth and one remembers “Oh yeah, that is the ‘let them eat cake’ chick.”

But above all else the pièce de résistance of the film is the production and costume design. Instead of feeling like we are on a walking tour through a museum, Versailles comes across as a vibrant, lived-in palace (as far as a royal residence CAN be lived in) where every corner has a tale to tell. And the bold, beautiful costumes need to be seen on the big screen to be believed. There are two dresses in particular which stand out in my mind: the green dress worn so confidently by Gabrielle de Polignac (Virginie Ledoyen) and the dress worn by Marie Antoinette as King Louis XVI leaves the palace for the last time (Note: these photos do not do them justice).

In summary, Les adieux à la reine is a spirited feast for the (visual) senses that breathes some air into what could have been a rather stale, tiresome historical exercise.

Les adieux à la reine (Farewell, My Queen)

Directed by Benoît Jacquot

Produced by Jean-Pierre Guérin, Kristina Larsen

Written by Benoît Jacquot, Gilles Taurand, Chantal Thomas (novel)

Starring: Léa Seydoux, Diane Kruger, Virginie Ledoyen, Xavier Beauvois

Cinematography: Romain Winding
Release date(s): 9 February 2012 (Berlin), US Release Date: TBD

A Look at “Turn Me On Dammit” (Norway, 2011)

One of the problems with expectations is that they rarely live up to them. At least that was the thought swimming in my head during the preview screening of the Jannicke Systad Jacobsen’s Få meg på, for faen (Turn Me on Dammit). Jacobsen also wrote the screenplay based on the novel by Olaug Nilssen. For her efforts, she was awarded the Best Screenplay prize at the 2011 Tribeca Film Festival. So, as you can imagine, I was expecting quite a lot.

The story is a centered on Alma, a frustrated 16 year old growing up in a sleepy Norwegian town, who, along with her best friend longs for a life outside of this town.  Piled on top of her wanderlust is a burgeoning sexuality, as exhibited by her mother’s shock and disgust at her bloated home phone bill, the result of Alma’s use of a phone sex line. She also breaks from the monotony of her day-to-day life by escaping into wild flights of fantasy.

Alma and Artur. Credit: Marianne Bakke/Motlys

Her life takes a slightly odd turn, when while at a youth party, the young man she has a crush on, Artur, initiates an odd, sexually suggestive act towards her. News of the encounter spreads like wildfire and she also immediately finds herself a social pariah, shunned and outcast since Artur will not admit to his part in the incident. For the remainder of the narrative, Alma tries in earnest to vindicate herself among her peers all while she gets closer to coming to terms with this complex and confusing time of her life.

In the central role of Alma, Helene Bergsholm ably handles the task of carrying us through her travails while simultaneously evoking a youthful angst that endears the audience.  This is only the more impressive considering Turn Me On Dammit is her (as well as several of her cast mates) first screen role.

Among the notable supporting players is Malin Bjørhovde, who plays Saralou, Alma’s best friend, whose scheme for escaping their hometown involves moving to Texas and campaigning against capital punishment.

Director - Jannicke Systad Jacobsen

Of course, none of this would have been accomplished if not for the direction and writing of Jacobsen. Particularly in the scenes with Alma where we drift into her colorful imagination, I felt as if I had been lulled there – the old bait and switch. This device was obviously by design. Jacobsen also deserves credit for handling a very young and inexperienced cast to positive result.

All the positivity aside, while I found myself chuckling a few times, the screening I attended did not have the level of boisterous laughter one would assume that would come from a film positing itself as a comedy, and a sex comedy at that. In other words, the offbeat humor of the piece may not be to everyone’s taste.

When I think of Turn Me On Dammit, I am reminded of another film that handles female teenage sexuality, Little Darlings. In dredging up this 1980s coming of age tale (a classic of sorts in my mind), I argue that stories dealing with young women’s sexuality in such a frank and ‘in-your-face’ manner are few and far between.

I caught this film at a recent screening at the newly renovated Pelham Picture House, which will be profiled on i luv cinema in the coming days. During this sneak peek, the Director of Programming introduced the film to the audience and we were also greeted with a video greeting from the film’s director.

Turn Me On Dammit opens ­­to wider release later in March.


Turn Me On Dammit, 2011. Directed by Jannicke Systad Jacobsen (Få meg på, for faen); In Norwegian with English subtitles.

UPDATE (2/28/2012) We have a special offer courtesy of Constellation.tv. Constellation.tv, a virtual movie theater platform, will be holding four online advanced movie screenings on March 1, March 8, March 15, and March 22, at 8:00 PM EST.

Click here to sign up for a virtual screening: http://www.constellation.tv/film. When you purchase your online ticket, be sure to use the following code ILF2012 to receive 20% off the value of the online ticket.

Haywire (2012) directed by Steven Soderbergh

Haywire is Steven Soderbergh’s hyper-styled foray into the action genre. This adrenaline-fueled film features Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) champion Gina Carano in her first motion picture, an action-packed globe trot that spans Washington, D.C., Barcelona, Dublin, New York and New Mexico.

When we first see Mallory Kane (Carano) all indications are that she is on the run from something – but what exactly? Mallory is a black ops specialist working for a private security firm. Well at least she was; the film shifts around the narrative timeline and reveals that the consequences of a recent assignment in Barcelona have produced a life or death situation for Mallory.

As the story unfolds, each layer gets us that much closer to the center of the mystery of exactly what has placed Mallory in her current predicament.

In the director’s own words, as detailed in the production notes, the film is a “Pam Grier movie made by Hitchcock.” That is what in many ways makes this film an interesting study and sets it apart from many films of its ilk. Through dialogue courtesy of Len Dobbs (Kafka, The Limey), there is enough to keep the audience engaged.

Soderbergh uses Ms. Carano’s physical abilities to good use; in fact Ms. Carano did the majority of her own stunts. This definitely added a sense of ‘realism’ to her fights with her co-stars. Going into this film, I wanted to see her kick serious butt – and on that account she delivers and then some. In fact, I could have done with a bit more running, jumping and punching; not MUCH more, but it was so much fun watching the fighting sequences.

For Carano this is an introduction to a possible career as “female action hero,” in the style of Jason Statham. With a little more experience under her belt, she may prove herself worthy.

A wonderful supporting cast that includes Channing Tatum, Michael Fassbender, Ewan McGregor, Antonio Banderas and Bill Paxton add gravitas to Carano’s presence.

Initially I did have some slight reservations about an action film directed by Steven Soderbergh. The release date of the film amplified my skepticism; January is typically the cinematic ‘dumping ground.’

If there is one thing that I did not get that I expected was with Haywire being an “exploitation” film. Perhaps, this is down to smooth execution by Soderbergh and company so that it did not feel like one.

As I write this, what has come to my attention is that Carano is the lone principal female character – her world is a ‘man’s world.’ The fact that I have just come to this realization a few days after screening Haywire leads me to believe this was part of Soderbergh’s plan. In essence, by not directly referring to her gender, this demonstrates that her gender is absolutely irrelevant to the mechanics of the plot.

In the end, for all the deconstruction of plot, story, etc., this is basically a film to sit back and enjoy.

All Images provided by Relativity Media