Café society

These days a new Woody Allen film does not necessarily mean a good film. And depending on your taste, you might like some more than others. (Am I the only person who hated Midnight in Paris?) Some could not stand his American (mostly Manhattan/New York) films and only got interested by his British, Paris and Rome work. Café society takes place in the 1930s in the Bronx, New York and Los Angeles, California. Phil Stern (Steve Carell) is a Hollywood agent, and he gets a phone call from his sister Rose Dorfman (Jeannie Berlin), who lives in the Bronx. Rose wants her brother Phil to find a job for her youngest son, Bobby (Jesse Eisenberg). Bobby flies to L.A. where he will work in the mailroom. Bobby meets Phil’s secretary, Vonnie (Kristen Stewart). Vonnie is short for Veronica. Bobby is attracted to Vonnie, but she tells him that they can only be friends because she is seeing another man called “Doug”. “Doug” is actually Uncle Phil. Phil tells Vonnie he’s going to divorce his wife. Meanwhile in New York, Bobby’s older sister, Evelyn (Sari Lennick), and her husband, Leonard (Stephen Kunken), are having problems with their bully neighbor. Evelyn mentions their problems to Ben, her gangster brother. When Bobby comes back to New York he marries a girl also called Veronica (who, of course, he calls Vonnie). Years later, when Uncle Phil and the original Vonnie visit New York, she and Bobby start having an affair. This romantic labirynth in narrated by Woody Allen himself. This is a very good ensemble cast, except for Eisenberg, who plays with too much mannerism. He becomes an erratic, annoying dork. Kristen Stewart fares much better than her co-star. She seems confident that the material is sufficient, and offers us a character without over playing the situations. I also liked Sari Lennick as the complaining sister. I had not seen actress Jeannie Berlin since her Oscar nominated turn in the 1972 comedy The heartbreak kid. It is nice to see her in fine comedic form as steals the film from everyone. Vittorio Storaro’s cinematography is consistently beautiful. This the most gorgeous Woody Allen film in years, and this is the first time Allen filmed in digital. So, not one of his best or one of the funniest, but not a total disaster.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

Café society

Directed by:

Woody Allen

Screenplay by:

Woody Allen

Starring:

Jesse Eisenberg

Kristen Stewart

Steve Carell

Jeannie Berlin

Parker Posey

Ken Stott

Blake Lively

Corey Stoll

Sari Lennick

Stephen Kunken

96 min.

Rated Parental Guidance

Advertisements

Wedding doll (Hatuna MeNiyar)

Nitzan Giladi’s Wedding doll is a bittersweet story about mentally challenged Hagit (Moran Rosenblatt) and her mother Sara (Asi Levy). Sara is separated from her husband, and works as a cleaner at a hotel in a remote desert town in Israel. Hagit works in a toilet paper factory. Her happy disposition seems to please the owner. She has also developed a crush on Omri (Roy Assaf), the owner’s handsome son. Omri returns the affection, but the stigma attached to Hagit’s mental handicap may prove too difficult for him. Hagit, who is obsessed with weddings, makes little wedding dolls with toilet paper, she draws wedding gowns and hopes to get a job as a designer. If Sara works at night, she tells Hagit she must not go out, but it seems too hard for Hagit to resists. Even when her mother is at home asleep, Hagit steals Sara’s keys, and it’s up to Sara to find her daughter. Soon, Hagit will lose her job as the factory is about to close. Although Wedding doll is very touching film with a touching topic, Moran Rosenblatt’s character may prove too challenging for the moviegoers. Hagit smiles a lot, that’s one thing. She likes to wear bright colors, that’s fine. But the pile up of eccentricities keeps going on. Hagit collects bridal magazines, she plasters the walls of her room with photos of brides all wearing beautiful white wedding gowns, OK. Not only is she working in a toilet paper factory, but the owner allows Hagit to make an art installations with toilet paper rolls. Rosenblatt is a good actress, but there is enough quirkiness here for multiple films. A little restraint would have been nice. And in complete contrast, Asi Levy’s Sara wears somber, plain clothes, is taciturn and almost never smiles. It’s either too much or too little. It a well made film, but the screenplay lacks balance.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

Wedding doll (Hatuna MeNiyar)

Directed by:

Nitzan Giladi

Screenplay by:

Nitzan Giladi

Starring:

Moran Rosenblatt

Asi Levi

Roy Assaf

Arie Techerner

In Hebrew with English subtitles.

 

Les innocentes (The innocents)

I don’t think that this topic and historical fact has ever been the subject of a film. We know that during wars, nuns were sometimes brutally raped. Les innocentes deals with aftermath of those terrible events. It begins in December 1945 when a young nun from a Polish convent defies Mother Superior’s strict orders and leaves the convent to seek the help of doctor Mathilde Beaulieu (Lou de Laâge). Doctor Beaulieu is working at a nearby French Red Cross hospital. At the convent she is allowed in by the reluctant Mother Superior (Agata Kulesza), and see her patient a young nun who is just about to give birth. Mathilde is assisted by Sister Maria (Agata Buzek) who explains what the situation is. A few month earlier, Soviet soldiers occupied the convent and raped the nuns. The secret must be kept because the blame and the shame would fall on the victims. This revolting situation is probably why we have not heard more about these events. Mathilde is trying to help as best she can, even as it causes problems at the hospital. She also is having an affair with fellow doctor Samuel (Vincent Macaigne). And she becomes friends with Sister Maria and the others nuns. This is Anne Fontaine’s best film. The first scene shows a young nun walking in the snow, her black robe becoming increasingly paler. This is the work of cinematographer Caroline Champetier who has used minimal lights inside the convent settings. It all seems to be lighted through windows. And Fontaine has found the perfect trio of actresses: the main actress de Laâge is the energy that drives the film and she is actually draining to watch. Polish actress Agata Kulesza’s Mother Superior is more than simply harsh and dour. It is desperate resignation we see in those eyes. And Agata Buzek is the most accomplished performance in Les innocentes. Maria’s devotion to God is embodied physically and emotionally by Buzek. But, unlike Mother Superior, Sister Maria is not resigned and she refuses despair. What a beautiful film!

You should know… Mathilde Beaulieu is based on the story of  Docteur Madeleine Pauliac (1912 – 1946). During World war II, Pauliac was a doctor in the French resistance and in 1944 she then took part in the liberation of Paris. In early 1945, as a medical lieutenant in the French military, Pauliac left for Moscow. Then in April, Pauliac was appointed chief doctor of the hospital of Warsaw, Poland. For the French Red Cross, Pauliac performed more than 200 missions throughout Poland and the Soviet Union, with the Blue Squadron, a unit of women ambulance volunteers of the French Red Cross. Pauliac died in an automobile accident on 13 February 1946, in Sochaczew, near Warsaw. She was only 33 years old. She was  posthumously awarded the French Légion d’honneur with the rank of knight of the Croix de guerre (1939 – 1945). Les innocentes was based on a segment from Pauliac’s diary. The diary is now the property of her nephew Philippe Maynial. It is Maynial who brought the idea to director Anne Fontaine.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

Les innocentes (The innocents)

Directed by:
Anne Fontaine

Screenplay by:
Sabrina B. Karine
Alice Vial
Pascal Bonitzer
Anne Fontaine
based on an idea from Philippe Maynial

Starring:
Lou de Laâge
Agata Kulesza
Agata Buzek
Vincent Macaigne

115 min.

Rated 14A

In Polish and French with English subtitles.

Captain Fantastic

Before you ask, this not a film about super heroes. As it stands,  the anti-establishment comedy Captain Fantastic has a near perfect ensemble cast, and it is the most fun I had at the movies this year. Viggo Mortensen plays Ben Cash, a father of six who has decided to raise his children as recluse anti-capitalist communists. They all live in a yurt (portable round tents) planted in the middle of a forest somewhere in rural Washington. Cash has homeschooled his kids so well, that even 8 years old Zaja (scene stealer Shree Crooks) knows everything about the American Bill of rights. Beside that, they have been thought to hunt, grow vegetables, cook and bake, build, make their own clothes and learned five languages. When one of his kids has a question, Ben answers truthfully no matter the topic. They don’t celebrate Christmas, but instead celebrate Noam Chomsky’s birthday just like it is Christmas. It’s on Noam Chomsky’s birthday that Ben gives Zaja, who’s been asking lots of questions about sex, a copy of The joy of sex. Then Ben learns that his wife, and the children’s mom, killed herself. She was institutionalized for bipolar disorder. Ben phones his in-laws to inquire about the funeral and tell the family that his wife wanted to be cremated. But his father-in-law will have none of it. His daughter is to have a Christian burial and if Ben comes near the church, he will be arrested. Ben and the children defiantly drive the family bus (named Steve) to the funeral in New Mexico. Along the way we learn that not everything is rosy in paradise. Unbeknownst to Ben, the oldest son, Bodevan (George MacKay), has applied and been accepted at the best universities, but he’s afraid to tell his dad. Rellian (Nicholas Hamilton), the middle son challenges his father’s decision to isolate the family. He’s convinced that Ben may have been responsible for his mom’s mental state. Of all the children, beside the afore-mentioned Shree Crooks, MacKay is most impressive. The lanky actor is either assured, aloof or nervous, or all three together as in a scene where he is meeting a girl. I don’t know if Viggo Mortensen will ever have a better showcase. That’s because there is such a wide variety of things to play. Comedy, tragic drama and tear-jerker, he is able to play it all perfectly. No sweat. Captain Fantastic is the part of a lifetime. And then as Jack, the father-in-law, there is Frank Langela, who frankly does not have to play much. In fact, instead of doing the ‘oh-here-comes-the-awful in-laws’ acting, he underplays so much, and with such a sensibility that we understand the character and know that his heart is in the right place. There are clichés as I was not surprised by some of the turn of events. But the dialogue is fun. Writer/director Matt Ross is an actor himself, and that is probably why the ensemble acting is so impressive. I hope some of them will be remembered come Oscar season.

And the Oscar went to… I was happy for Mortensen’s nomination. But it went to Casey Affleck in Manchester by the Sea.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

Captain Fantastic

Directed by:
Matt Ross

Screenplay by:
Matt Ross

Starring:
Viggo Mortensen
George MacKay
Samantha Isler
Annalise Basso
Nicholas Hamilton
Shree Crooks
Charlie Shotwell
Frank Langella
Ann Dowd
Kathryn Hahn

118 min.

Rated 14A

Hevn (Revenge)

Hevn‘s central character is a mysterious woman named Rebekka (Siren Jørgensen). Rebekka shows up at a tourist hotel in the fjords of Western Norway. She claims to be a journalist for a travel publication who wants to write an article about the hotel. Once she meets the owner, Morten (Frode Winther), and is lodged at the hotel, it is revealed that she was carrying a large kitchen knife in her handbag. The next day she befriends Morten’s wife, Nina (Maria Bock) and she reveals that her teenage sister killed herself as a result of the aftermath of a rape from a man. From that, and from the English tittle, we can easily deduce that the rapist is Morten, and that Rebekka wants to destroy his life. Rebekka soon finds out that he has an other victim in the village, but that the authorities ignored the accusations of rape from the young victim. After all, how could a nice and handsome family man like Morten be a rapist, seems to be the majority opinion of most people in town. As a revenge Norwegian film (actually a Norwegian-Canadian co-production) this is not as bad as it sounds. Weird to say that I had fun despite the topic. There is a lot of clichés, but I was expecting that from a Norwegian thriller. And the least you can say is that the scenery is breathtaking.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

Hevn (Revenge)

Directed by:
Kjersti Steinsbø

Screenplay by:
Ingvar Ambjørnsen
Kjersti Steinsbø
Based on Dukken i taket (Doll in the ceiling)
by Ingvar Ambjørnsen

Starring:
Siren Jørgensen
Frode Winther
Anders Baasmo Christiansen
Trond Espen Seim
Maria Bock

102 min.

Rated 14A
.
In Norwegian with English subtitles.

Truman

Truman is a delicate drama about friendship and death. It begins with Tomás (Javier Cámara) leaving his home and family in Canada to fly to Madrid, Spain. Tomás is going there to spend a few days with his best friend Julián (Ricardo Darín). His final visit. Soon Julián is going to die. Chemotherapy treatments are offered, but since there is no possible cure, Julián says no thanks. He wants to live, not spend time in a hospital. And besides, Julián has things to do before he leaves. He is most concerned with finding an adoptive family for Truman, his beloved dog. He is an actor and has limited funds, but Tomás offers to pay for everything while he’s in Madrid. This is his parting gift. So Julián proposes that go to Amsterdam and pay a unnanounced  one-day visit to his son who is a studying there, maybe the last time Julián sees his son. At first Tomás seems a bit surprised at Julián’s calm demeanor. Julián has no time to get upset or angry. When a man Julián wronged (Julián slept with the man’s wife) tells him he is sorry to have heard of Julián’s death, Julián later feels compelled to apologize for causing so much grief and trouble to his marriage. Life is too short to hold grudges. Yes, this a film about death. Yet, Truman is not morbid and, apart from a short scene at a doctor’s office, you are not going to see deathbed confessions. We are going to celebrate life. Ricardo Darín and Javier Cámara don’t need much dialogue to show us how much the two friends love one another. Teary eyes, heavy sighing and a smile is enough to understand the other person’s feelings. Director Cesc Gay has not fallen into the trap of heavy-handed melodramas. Truman is the most moving I’ve seen this year.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

Truman

Directed by:
Cesc Gay

Screenplay by:
Tomà Aragay
Cesc Gay

Starring:
Ricardo Darín
Javier Cámara
Dolores Fonzi
Eduard Fernández
Javier Guitierrez
José Luis Gómez

110 min.

Mostly in Spanish and English with English subtitles.

 

Sour grapes

In vino veritas? Well, maybe not. Rudy Kurniawan was one the biggest wine fraud artist you’re going to meet in a documentary. Wine collectors like billionaire Bill Koch will tell you that he will buy the occasional counterfeit bottle of wine. But Kurniawan sold more than 40,000 fake bottles between 2003 and 2006 for a  total of more than $35 million. Inside the bottles is cheap inexpensive wine, but, as Koch and others found out, the outside was all fake. Fake sticker with fake dates and with spelling mistakes. Koch hired a detective and the feds also got involved. Domaine Ponsot’s director Laurent Ponsot got wind of an auctioneer selling one of his company Clos de la Roche bottle labeled 1929 and a series of Clos St. Denis from 1945 to 1971. The domaine did not estate bottles prior to 1934, and they only started to make Clos St. Denis in 1982. Rudy Kurniawan was a smart guy. He would spend huge amounts to buy wine bottles at auction, hiking up prices so that his counterfeit bottles could sell for more money. The Indonesia native had such an innocent boy next door look that he fooled everyone. To this day some of his friends (including some Hollywood insiders) still won’t believe he was a fraud. This a fun and interesting documentary. Although Rudy Kurniawan refused to go on camera, there are plenty of cell phone videos of him. You’ll have a good time.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

Sour grapes

Directed by:
Jerry Rothwell
Reuben Atlas

86 min.

Rated Parental Guidance