Irrational man

There is a new Woody Allen film, and this time it is extraordinary complex and surprising. It is very dark (think of Crimes and misdemeanors), and I’m not even sure it is a comedy. But neither is it a drama, in the usual sense of the word. Like most of Allen’s films, he is concerned more with discussion on ideas rather than fitting in any particular genre. It stars Joaquin Phoenix playing philosophy professor Abe Lucas, a depressed, pot-bellied, hard-drinking, middle age man who just got a new teaching gig at a Newport, Rhode Island university. From the moment he arrives, people start talking. Some women find him cute. One of them is young student Jill Pollard (Emma Stone) who quickly becomes his friend. They have long walks together talking about Kirkegaard and Sartre. Hey! This is an Allen film. Jill tells her boyfriend, Roy (Jamie Blackley), and her family that she and Abe are only friends, but all she talks about is Abe. Jill has made attempts, but Abe is not interested. He is too depressed, he’s trying to finish his next book, he drinks too much, and he’s impotent. Rita (Parker Posey), another teacher, practically threw herself on Abe almost from the moment she saw him. But Abe could not perform. Abe’s life is too much of a mess and he does not want or need his life to be more screwed up than it is by sleeping with a student. They maintain a platonic friendship. One day, they overhear a conversation: A woman fighting for custody of her child, is having problems because her rich husband is paying the corrupt judge to rule in his favor. “Would it be right to kill a corrupt, immoral person like that judge?’, they ask. “Yes, it would be right.” Secretly, Abe decide to kill the judge, without telling Jill. Abe start following him, find the right poison and kills him. After the murder, Abe feels free, liberated. He is not depressed anymore, he can write again. His ideas are clear. He can now have sex and starts sleeping with Jill. He sees the murder as the best thing he has ever done. Allen writes the script with Abe and Jill narrating the story. There are several reasons why I was fascinated by Irrational man. I was actually on the edge of my seat by Allen’s casual way of telling a story. I could not believe this was a Woody Allen film. Yes, it has some of the same elements that we usually find in his film, but it also a very original and exciting. It’s fun to watch Phoenix create with ease this worn out, cynic character and bring him back to life. Emma Stone is even better. Her Jill is innocent and knowing all at once, the most intelligent and the dumbest and she does it simply,  in the most honest and fresh way. I like actors who underplay, and I find Parker Posey so compelling here. Without ever seeming to want to pull the cover and keeping it all on her side, in the few scenes she has, Posey plays so well with her partners that she makes them shine (that’s what good actors do, you know) and you can see the fun she has doing so. Rejoice! There is a new Woody Allen. And this one is very good.

Rémi-SergeGratton

Irrational man

Directed by:
Woody Allen

Screenplay by:
Woody Allen

Starring:
Emma Stone
Joaquin Phoenix
Parker Posey
Jamie Blackley

96 min.

Rated 14A

Jimmy’s hall

The story of Irish folk hero James Gralton is not known to most of us. After more than two decades in America, Gralton (Barry Ward) comes back to Effrinagh, County Leitrim in Ireland, mainly to take care of his mother (Aileen Henry). Before he left in 1909, Gralton built and ran the Pearse-Connolly hall. Today it would be called a community centre. People came to the hall for courses and to talk about politics. And they came to dance. But Gralton ran into Catholic priest Father Sheridan (Jim Norton) who called him a communist (and he was, or at the very least got involved in the communist cause because of what he witness, like a lot of people) and successfully used his powers to close the hall. When he comes back in 1932, there is a demand from young people to reopen the hall. He also reconnects with his old flame, Oonagh (Simone Kirby), who is now married with kids. The hall re-opens and Father Sheridan stands with other parishioners outside taking down the names of people going to the dance. At Sunday mass, Sheridan reads their names out and denounces them. He particularly points out the American jazz that Gralton brought back. One young lady gets violently beaten by her father. These were different times and the hold of the church was mighty. There is no way for me to verify if the events portrayed are accurate, but Jimmy’s hall sounds and looks real. For sure, legendary British filmmaker Ken Loach wears his politics on his sleeves and the screenplay can be a bit manipulative. All the actors are good, and Jim Norton as Father Sheridan makes your skin scrawl without overplaying it. The love affair between Jimmy and Oonagh is sweetly romantic. That and the Irish landscapes are rendered through the soft lens of cinematographer Robbie Ryan. Although they dance to jazz, the best moments are the ones with the Irish folk dances with toe tapping Irish folk music.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

Jimmy’s hall

Directed by:
Ken Loach

Screenplay by:
Paul Laverty
Based on the play by Donal O’Kelly

Starring:
Barry Ward
Francis Magee
Aileen Henry
Simone Kirby

109 min.

Rated Parental Guidance

Mr. Holmes

At 93 Sherlock Holmes (Ian McKellen) is very frail and now walks with a cane. We are in 1947 and Holmes is just coming back from Japan with prickly ash jelly to help his failing memory. He has retired to a small estate on the south coast of England. His housekeeper is the stern Mrs. Munro (Laura Linney), a widow living there with her young son Roger (Milo Parker). Old Sherlock Holmes wants to remember his last case as a detective. Thirty years previously a man (Patrick Kennedy) asked Holmes to follow his wife (Hattie Morahan) to find out if she was going crazy. After that case he abruptly abandoned detective work and left London to live in the country. The book written about that case was penned in the film by Holmes’s friend and collaborator Dr. John Watson and not the original author Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Holmes thinks that Watson toyed too much with the story and wants to write his own version of events. The problem is to remember what happened. And he is trying to remember why he went to Japan a few months ago and the name of the man he went to see (Hiroyuki Sanada). As if that was not enough, Holmes is keeping busy with his beekeeping hobby and he enlists young Roger to help him. Roger has read everything written about Sherlock Holmes and is in awe, enthralled in front of his hero. That does nothing to soothe Holmes’s already wobbly relationship with Mrs. Munro. Confused yet? There is a lot to digest here as we try to find our way out of the labyrinth. There is maybe too much. There are the flashbacks to the time when Holmes was in his sixties and to his trip in Japan thirty years later and the scenes with Holmes at home at 93. Adding to the confusion is McKellen’s diction. He sometimes whispers or mumbles some of his lines. Otherwise, it is a great performance. Milo Parker is perfect, pointedly being in turn excited and enthusiastic with Holmes, and rebellious with his mother. Linney’s job is more difficult. She has to play a character who is dry and at first glance unappealing. The actress holds back, not letting us read into Mrs. Munro’s mind, and also holds back on the accent. It is consistent, I’m not sure it is British or American. Or anything. Maybe that is Linney’s aim. Isn’t Holmes the important character in the film. At least she’s not chewing the scenery. And I think Ian McKellen plays well with those two actors. The costumes and the sets are excellent. In a film where the main actor ages thirty years, I would say the makeup is an important part of the making believe machine. And it is also very good. Tobias A. Schliessler’s cinematography could not be more perfect, showing us the beautiful scenery. Director Bill Condon has worked with McKellen on Gods and monsters, and with Linney on Kinsey. And another frequent collaborator is composer Carter Burwell. Here Burwell finds exactly the right colors, just as he did with Kinsey. All warmth.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

 

Mr. Holmes

 

Directed by:

BillCondon

Screenplay by:

Jeffrey Hatcher

Based on the novel A slight trick of the mind by Mitch Cullin and characters created by Arthur Conan Doyle

Starring:

Ian McKellen

Laura Linney

Milo Parker

Hattie Morahan

Roger Allam

Hiroyuki Sanada

104 min.

Rated Parental Guidance

Infinitely polar bear

In an early scene in Infinitely polar bear Cam Stuart (Mark Ruffalo) wants to prevent his wife, Maggie (Zoe Saldana) from leaving with their two daughters, Amelia (director Maya Forbes’s 12-year-old daughter, Imogene Wolodarsky) and Faith (Ashley Aufderheide). It looks like a cold October day and Cam arrives on a bike wearing red bikini bathing briefs and a red bandanna. Understandably Maggie and the girls are afraid of him and have locked themselves in the car. Cam suffers from manic depression (AKA bipolar disorder). After some time in a mental hospital and a halfway house, Cam is ready to go back to a sort of normal life, although Cam is unemployed, and Cam and Maggie are now separated. It is then that Maggie tells Cam about her plan. Since she is the sole breadwinner, Maggie wants to move to New York so she can study to get a MBA in order to make a better future for the family. It will be up to Cam to take care of their daughters. Talk about a bad idea. Chain smoking, tempestuous, beer guzzling while taking lithium, Cam will sometime leave the girls alone at night to go to a bar. Most of the time the apartment is a mess, and he embarrasses the heck out of his daughters. In other words: A mess. But he can also be fun and creative, and he is good with children. Mark Ruffalo and Zoe Saldana give worthy performances. And it is fun to watch Ruffalo play with the two young actresses. But I was annoyed most of the time, so I can’t really recommend it.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

 

Infinitely polar bear

Directed by:

Maya Forbes

Screenplay by:

Maya Forbes

Starring:

Mark Ruffalo

Zoe Saldana

Imogene Wolodarsky

Ashley Aufderheide

Keir Dullea

90 min.

Rated 14A

Suite Française

From the instant we see Michelle Williams and Kristin Scott Thomas, we know that World War II drama Suite Française will be an acting treat and a bit of a soap opera. Williams plays Lucile Angellier, who dutifully awaits the return of her husband. We are in Nazi-occupied France and Lucille is forced to stay with her unbearably bossy mother-in-law (Scott Thomas) at the family’s estate in the small French town of Bussy. The arrival of the Germans means that Madame Angellier has to open her house and accept one of the officers as a lodger. Officer Bruno von Falk (Matthias Schoenaerts) is a handsome and sensitive man who plays the piano and composes music. Lucille also likes to play, but it is verboten by Madame. Of course we know what happens next. Later, Lucille uses her influence on him to help others in town. Some of the people she helps are Benoît (Sam Riley) and his wife Madeleine (Ruth Wilson) who have to deal with the sexual advances from the officer billeted at their farm. Although it suffers a bit from over production, it is still good enough for me to recommend. One small thing bothers me. Why was this film not made in French? Imagine Marion Cotillard and Catherine Deneuve. Or other great French actresses (Isabelle Huppert would be great as Madame Angellier). Michelle Williams is great, and Kristin Scott Thomas is great, but they speak with British accents. Most in the cast are British. And while the French characters all speak English, the Germans all speak German. Does not make sense to me. Other than that, there is an effective thumping score is by Rael Jones. Bruno’s piano Suite Française is by Alexandre Desplat and is excellent as well.

You should know… Suite Française is adapted from the unfinished novel of the same name by Irène Némirovsky (1903 – 1942), a French Jewish author born in Russia. Némirovsky’s plan to write five separate volumes was stopped when she was transported to the Auschwitz concentration camp. She reportedly died of typhus a month after she arrived there. Her two daughters, Denise and Elizabeth Epstein, escaped deportation bringing with them their mother’s notebook. Thinking it was a diary with painful memories, the notebook was not examined for over fifty years. The notebook contained the first two volumes, Tempête en juin (Storm in June) and Dolce (Sweet), and the a plot outline for a third volume, Captivité (Captivity). There was also only a few notes about the last two volumes. It was grouped and published in one volume in 2004 to rave reviews and became an international best seller. For the film version of Suite Française, Saul Dibb and Matt Charman have mainly adapted the second volume about Lucile Angellier and her mother-in-law.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

Suite Française

Directed by:
Saul Dibb

Screenplay by:
Matt Charman
Saul Dibb
Based on the novel by Irène Némirovsky

Starring:
Michelle Williams
Kristin Scott Thomas
Margot Robbie
Ruth Wilson
Sam Riley
Matthias Schoenaerts
Harriet Walter

107 min.

Rated 14A

In English and German with English subtitles.

The wolfpack

The Angulos is probably the weirdest family I have ever seen in a film. In 2010, director Crystal Moselle met the six Angulo brothers on a New York street. Ponytailed, dressed in black suit and tie, and wearing sunglasses, like a replica of the Reservoir dogs posters. Mukunda, Narayana, Govinda, Bhagavan, Krisna, Jagadesh and their sister Visnu love movies. From the beginning of The wolfpack it is clear that movies are important to the siblings. As the whole family was confined to an apartment, watching movies, talking about them and enacting their favorite scenes from their favorite movies was the only thing they had. Some footage are from the brothers themselves, video images of their younger selves. The Halloween video is particularly freaky. They are actually doing their own cinema They were home schooled and not allowed to go out of the apartment for 14 long years. Oscar Angulo, their paranoid father is an illusive man who does not talk to the filmmaker until the middle of the film. Why did he locked his family in that appartement?Was it paranoia or an abusing father wanting to control his family at all costs? Or both? According to some of the boys, Oscar was abusive towards their mother, Susanne. Speaking to Moselle, they are very conscious now how weird and crazy their lives has been. One day in 2010, Mukunda, who was 15 then, decided to face the world and go out without his father’s consent. He did not want people to recognize him, so he wore a mask a la Michael Myers from Halloween. Of course he got some attention from the police. But the next time he went without the mask and with his brothers. We get to see each family member (except Oscar) blossom and free themselves from the paranoia and the fear. Susanne is such a touching person. When she first speak to the camera, she seems so sad, so hopeless. Later, she flashes her beautiful smile. She has every reason to be happy. They are now the star of their own movie.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

 

  The wolfpack

Directed by:

Crystal Moselle

89 Min.

Rated 14A

Madame Bovary

“Why?”, you could ask, “Oh! why make another film version of Gustave Flaubert’s Madame Bovary?”. And I could tell you, ” Well, because sometimes they get it right.” Reading the novel is not a requirement to appreciate the film. These are two different mediums. My question is “Why is there always a need to adapt classic novels, why not start anew with original, modern, relevant and fresh stories?” But that’s a debate for another review, because I liked Sophie Barthes’s Madame Bovary. Mia Wasikowska plays Emma Bovary, the new wife of Charles Bovary (Henry Lloyd-Hughes). Charles is a doctor in a small country village in Normandy. Soon Emma is bored and displeased with her life and daydreams about the exciting, romantic lives she reads in novels. She start buying expensive dresses on credit so she can go to a ball given by the local Marquis (Logan Marshall-Green). And she has an affair with the Marquis and another one with Leon Dupuis (Ezra Miller), a young man the couple have befriended. With all the clothes and furniture she bought on credit, her husband finds himself unable to pay the debt. Her main creditor is Monsieur Lheureux, a merchant who spells trouble from the moment we see him. Lheureux is the type of sneaky character one would find in a Dickens novel, and is perfectly played by Rhys Ifans. The presence of American actor Paul Giamatti as the local pharmacist should also be mentioned. From what I know, in Rose Barreneche’s adaptation, Emma is the sole focus of the film, and Charles’s importance is considerably reduced. As such, this will undoubtedly anger the purists, who would like to have every scenes and dialogue from the novel untouched. But I liked Madame Bovary because it was not a talking head film. Actually, Mia Wasikowska does not utter a word for at least ten minutes into the film. Long delicate minutes. I got the cue from the beautiful, delicate Evgueni and Sacha Galperine piano score. And the work from cinematographer Andrij Parekh is full of despair and sadness from the start. Wasikowska plays a woman unable to control her impulses, and is not afraid to show her character’s dark side. The actress goes from delicate flower to annoying spoiled child in the course of the film. And that is why you should make another film version of Gustave Flaubert’s Madame Bovary.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

 

Madame Bovary

Directed by:

Sophie Barthes

Screenplay by:

Rose Barreneche

Based on Gustave Flaubert’s novel

Starring:

Mia Wasikowska

Rhys Ifans

Logan Marshall-Green

Henry Lloyd-Hughes

Laura Carmichael

Ezra Miller

Paul Giamatti

118 min.

Rated14A

Magician: The astonishing life and work of Orson Welles

‘Boy wonder’ Orson Welles was only 24 when he made CitizenKane. For several reason, it was not a success, but over the years the film developed the reputation as the best film aver made. Chuck Workman’s Magician: The astonishing life and work of Orson Welles is an amusing glance at the great filmmaker’s life. But you cannot really do a serious analysis of the man and his films in only 91 minutes. There is a brief look at his childhood. Then his early success in theatre, including Macbeth performed by black actors (known as Voodoo Macbeth), The cradle will rock, very important productions in the history of American theatre. And then came the most famous radio broadcast of all time. In 1938, The war of the world adapted from H. G. Wells, scared Americans who believed the fictional news reports of a Martian invasion. A contract with RKO pictures gave Welles a two movie deal with complete control over the finished films. CitizenKane was the first of those films. But Welles never had the final edit on any of his other Hollywood films. No matter how great they are, The magnificent Amberson, The lady from Shanghai and Touch of evil were pulled from his control and edited by the studios. He is sometimes at fault for that: The films often lagged behind schedule and over budget or he was busy working on radio broadcasts or plays. His other films were made in Europe. To finance them Welles did theatre, acted in mostly mediocre films and made several guest appearances in variety TV series (such as The Dean Martin celebrity roast). A look at his filmography reveals the sad truths: There are more unfinished and aborted films, than completed films. Beside CitizenKane, there are beautiful masterpieces, and as an actor, Welles has a thunderous presence (Touch of evil and Chimes at midnight are good examples of that). His last great film was Chimes at midnight in 1965. Workman interviews childhood friends, supporters (like film scholar and director Peter Bogdanovich), his last companion Oja Kodar, and on archives, Charlton Heston and Anthony Perkins. Although this is not the most insightful film about Welles, it is still worth a look.

Good read… Pauline Kael (1919 – 2001) was considered one of the best American film reviewer. In her long essay, Raising Kane, Kael writes that Welles did not co-authored CitizenKane. She also writes about the people CitizenKane was based on: newspaper publisher William Randolph Hearst (1863 – 1951) and his mistress, actress Marion Davies (1897 – 1961). Although Kael’s theories and research have been rebutted, there are still some questions worth asking. Raising Kane can be read here:

http:/ www.paulrossen.com/paulinekael/raisingkane.html

Rémi-Serge Gratton

Magician: The astonishing life and work of Orson Welles

Directed by:

Chuck Workman

91 min.

Rated Parental Guidance

La famille Bélier (The Bélier family)

What you notice during breakfast at the Bélier farm is how noisy it is. The only thing is father Rodolphe (Francois Damiens), mother Gigi (Karin Viard) and teenage son, Quentin (Luca Gelberg) are all deaf. The only speaking family member is 16-year-old daughter Paula (Louane Emera). So, when they sell cheese at the market, she must be there in order to be the sign language interpreter between her parents and the clients. While going to school, she’s on the phone with possible clients, sets up meetings, arranging for the cheese to be delivered and has to go to doctor’s appointments with her parents. A lot of weight to carry for such a young person. One day she follows cute boy Gabriel (Ilan Bergala) into choir practice. She never thought of singing, and being too shy, she would never go on stage to sing. But teacher Monsieur Thomasson (Eric Elmosnino) is a demanding choirmaster. He has decided to that the whole repertory would be made exclusively of the song from successful French singer-songwriter Michel Sardou. I never thought much of his songs, but I must admit that I was quite impressed. When Thomasson helps Paula find her voice, what comes out scares her. But the teacher is convinced she has great potential and thinks she should go study in Paris. And the more Pauls sings, the more she wants to. But she is also scared. What is her family going to do without her? They don’t even know she sings. There are some unnecessary secondary plots, such as the father running in the municipal election. Those don’t really work. But everything Louane Emera does is magic. Of course, she is the winner of France’s version of The voice (called The voice in France!), and she has a beautiful voice, but what impresses most is how fresh and open is her acting performance. It all builds up and climaxes with one audition scene that makes La famille Bélier one of the most effective tear-jerker I have ever seen. And it is mainly because of Emera’s acting and Michel Sardou songs.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

 

 La famille Bélier (The Bélier family)

Directed by:
Eric Lartigau
Screenplay by:
Victoria Bedos
Thomas Bidegain
Stanislas Carré de Malberg
Eric Lartigau
Starring:
Louane Emera
Karin Viard
François Damiens
Luca Gelberg
Eric Elmosnino
Roxane Duran
106 min.
In French with English subtitles

The overnight

Sometimes, all a film needs is good actors who feel a connection with the material and who trust each other enough, and they get exactly the right rhythm going, the right notes. As simple as that. But for that you also need a simple story. Emily (Taylor Schilling) and Alex (Adam Scott) have just moved to Los Angeles with their son RJ. They have relocated there because of Emily’s new job. Alex is a stay at home dad, and they want to find friends for Alex, who will be alone with RJ in the daytime. Then one day in the park, they meet Kurt (Jason Schwartzman) and his son Max. Emily and Alex are invited for pizza night and to meet Kurt’s wife, Charlotte (France’s Judith Godrèche). Kurt and Charlotte have a spacious house. Kurt, who is an inventor, designed the house based on Charlotte’s childhood home. Once the boys are put to bed and the adults are alone, things get a bit weird. Kurt and Charlotte show their guest some films of Charlotte removing her shirt and using a breast pump. And then Kurt brings Alex into his den, and he shows him his paintings. They are paintings of people’s anus. Emily tells Alex she is convinced their hosts are swingers. They go swimming in the pool with Kurt in the buff. His giant penis gives Alex an inferiority complex. In 2012, co-producer Mark Duplass also produced Your sister’s sister. In this comedy, Duplass, Emily Blunt and Rosemarie DeWitt formed such a solid trio of actors that Your sister’s sister found its way into my Top 10 list. And this is almost what I could say about the four actors in The overnight. They are working so well together, they are so in sync, that they are like a string quartet. And that is all you need from those actors to make this a perfect film. This is a sex comedy with a heart, but some people should be warned about the frontal nudity.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

 

 The overnight

Directed by:
Patrick Brice

Screenplay by:
Patrick Brice

Starring:
Adam Scott
Taylor Schilling
Jason Schwartzman
Judith Godrèche

80 min.

Rated 18A; Full frontal nudity with prosthetics.