Juliet, Naked

Duncan claims to be Tucker Crowe’s No. 1 fan. He has set up a website about Crowe, with lengthy pretentious discussions analyzing every guitar plucks on Crowe’s only vinyl called “Juliet”, recorded thirty years ago. There are also many speculations on what happened to Tucker Crowe since then. Duncan Thomson (Chris O’Dowd) is British and lives in England with his girlfriend Annie Platt (Rose Byrne). For years Annie has silently endured Duncan’s obsession about Crowe. She keeps it in until one day she mistakenly opens a package addressed to Duncan. It’s a new demo CD from Crowe, another mainly acoustic affair called “Juliet, Naked”. She automatically knows that Duncan will be angry, not because she opened the package, but because it was from Crowe. Then she decides to listen to it. Duncan is livid. He calms down once he listens to it and falls in love with the new album. But Annie hates it. After reading Duncan’s piece on the new CD on his Crowe website, she decides to post her own dislike of “Juliet, Naked”, ripping apart Duncan ‘s corny article. Duncan is angry and he starts looking elsewhere for support. He finds it in the arm of another woman. As a result of her post, Annie receives an email supporting her views from a man who claims to be Tucker Crowe. Annie believes it is Crowe, and without telling Duncan she starts corresponding with him.. Tucker Crowe (Ethan Hawke) lives in the US with his ex-wife. Actually he lives in the shed behind the house so he can be near to his young son Jackson (Azhy Robertson). His life is kind of mess. Besides Jackson, Crowe has several children from other relations, some he almost never sees, others he has never met. Through emails, Annie and Tucker develop a friendship where they share everything. When Duncan tells Annie he has been cheating on her, she kicks him out. When Lizzie (Ayoola Smart), one of Tucker’s daughter is about to give birth, he plans to come to England to be near her. Perfect moment for Annie and Tucker to finally meet. But upon arriving in England, Tucker suddenly feels sick. From the first scene with Chris O’Dowd perfect (during the whole film really) at parodying Duncan’s fan website. Juliet, Naked is an excellent romantic comedy. It takes a very funny look at fandom (with Duncan it should be called “fandoom”). Snappy dialogues delivered by a near perfect cast (Hawke and Byrne have very good chemistry, and young Azhy Robertson is a great find). A really charming film.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

Juliet, Naked

 

Directed by:
Jesse Peretz

Screenplay by:
Evgenia Peretz
Jim Taylor
Tamara Jenkins
Based on the novel by Nick Hornby

Starring:
Rose Byrne
Ethan Hawke
Chris O’Dowd
Azhy Robertson
Ayoola Smart
Lily Brazier

105 min.

Rated 14A

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Puzzle

Puzzle starts with suburban housewife Agnes (Kelly Macdonald) preparing for a birthday party. She has decorated her house with balloons. She bakes a cake, lights the candles and brings out the cake. It’s only when she blows the candles that you realise that it’s her own birthday party. She has done all the work to her own birthday party. She had no help from her auto mechanic husband Louie (David Denman) and her two grown sons, Ziggy and Gabe (Bubba Weiler and Austin Abrams). Among the gift she got there was a 1,000-piece jigsaw puzzle. When she sits down to do the puzzle, she finishes it quickly, and wants to start another one. She’s emotionally invested in it for several reasons: it’s a time she can spend on herself and a thing that is her own unusual passion, while she puzzles, Agnes (who mentions that she was a good math student) mathematically works out how to solve the pieces, and it helps her concentrate, think out about her own life, the pieces of her own puzzle, and how the people she loves take her for granted. Agnes lives in a very conservative Catholic community, who expect things to be in their proper places and remain the same. When Agnes finds out that the puzzle store is in New York, a place she almost never visits, she seems to be scared to go there. But nevertheless, she takes the train and goes to the store. We’re surprised when Agnes answers an add about a puzzle competition, and she goes to meet champion Robert (Irrfan Khan). He tells her that he needs new partner for a national puzzle competition. She accepts but lies to her family about where she spends her afternoon. At home, Ziggy, her older son tells her he wants to become a restaurant chef rather than a mechanic like his dad wants him to be. Bur Ziggy is too scared to tell Louie. Meanwhile, Agnes and Robert are getting closer. Puzzle is a remake of the 2009 film Rompecabezas from Argentinean director Natalia Smirnoff. Its main draw is actress Kelly Macdonald, who gives so many layers of complexities to her character that she is quite difficult to figure out what she’s going to do next. Agnes is so confidently awkward. Like the Church lady once said to me as she was laughing “I’m anal retentive!”. She was defying my expectations. That’s what Puzzle is doing. Not a masterpiece, but good enough.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

Puzzle

 

Directed by:
Marc Turtletaub

Screenplay by:
Oren Moverman
Polly Mann
Based on the film Rompecabezas by Natalia Smirnoff

Starring:
Kelly Macdonald
Irrfan Khan
David Denman
Bubba Weiler
Austin Abrams

103 min.

Rated 14A

Don’t worry, he won’t get far on foot

Gus Van Sant’s new film is a biopic of paraplegic, alcoholic, politically incorrect cartoonist John Callahan (Joaquin Phoenix). At 21, after a day of drinking with his new buddy Dexter (Jack Black), Callahan’s life is changed forever by an auto accident. The cruel irony is that Dexter (real name? don’t know), who was driving Callahan’s car and fell asleep at the wheel, comes out of the accident without a scratch. At the hospital Callahan has a hard time facing the news that he won’t walk again. The only thing that calms him is physiotherapist Annu. Rooney Mara is Annu, and the way Gus Van Sant films her (in close-up, surrounded by sunshine and pastel colors) she looks more like a dreamy angel than a physiotherapist. Once out of the hospital and in a wheelchair, Callahan resumes his drinking and his whining. Most of the time he’s in a state of self-pity because his mother gave him up for adoption, and he drinks. A lot. That’s until he goes to an AA meeting at age 27 and stops drinking. His sponsor is Donnie, a gay, AA’s 12 steps guru. With a beard, hippie-like long blond hair and having lost some weight, Jonah Hill gives the best and most surprising performance of his career. After sobering up, Callahan starts his career as a cartoonist. Some of his cartoons were called racist by some while others found them funny. He also made fun at the physically disabled, and sometimes himself, as can attest the title of this film (also the title of Callahan’s book). It’s not an entirely satisfying movie experience. The screenplay and Van Sant’s direction makes it impossible to follow. It is confusing because it goes back and forth in time. Is it before he joined AA or did he relapse? A scene where he is sober is followed by one where he is drunk without any clue for the audience. It’s a shame. But you can still enjoy the superior performances from Joaquin Phoenix, Jonah Hill, Rooney Mara and Jack Black. You could not find better casting.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

 

Don’t worry, he won’t get far on foot

 

Directed by:
Gus Van Sant

Screenplay by:
John Callahan
Gus Van Sant
Jack Gibson
William Andrew Eatman
Based on Callahan’s memoir

Starring:
Joaquin Phoenix
Jonah Hill
Rooney Mara
Jack Black

114 min.

Rated 14A

Boom for real: The late teenage years of Jean-Michel Basquiat

In 1976 Jean-Michel Basquiat was a homeless 16 years old. With his friend Al Diaz he started to spray paint graffiti on New York’s Lower East Side buildings, They called themselves SAMO (short for “same old”). Their designs included inscribed messages. But Basquiat’s street art was unlike anything anyone had ever seen. His reputation started to build and soon he would become one of the most important American artist. Driver interviews friends, lovers and fans of his work. The film is often more about them and their impression of Basquiat than it is about Basquiat himself. He is seen in film archives and photos as an enigmatic, evasive presence. In some weird photos he has shaved the front half his head. Sarah Driver’s documentary is a glimpse into his surroundings and the New York underground art scene (including early Hip Hop) in the late 70s. Jean-Michel Basquiat died of a drug overdose in 1988 at 27. The film is a fitting tribute.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

Boom for real: The late teenage years of Jean-Michel Basquiat

 

Directed by:
Sarah Driver

79 min.

Rated 14A

Three identical strangers

Three identical strangers tells a weird story of a “separated at birth” type. It all started in 1980 when 19-year-old Bobby Shafran discovered he had a twin brother. You could not get more “indentical” than Bobby and his brother Eddy Galland. An article is published in a newspaper and David Kellman sees the photos of his two twins. Of course the three boys became media sensations. We see clips from The Phil Donahue show where they list their similarities. Even though they were adopted by couples of different economic classes (a blue collar, a middle class, and an upper class), they practiced the same sports when they were younger, smoked the same brand of cigarette, dated the same type of girls. The triplets and their parents had a lot of questions. When they compared notes they realized that the boys had been placed by the same adoption agency. Louise Wise services placed children with Jewish families. When pressed for answers the directors responded that it was too hard to place triplets or twins, so they had to be separated. It was later revealled that their separation, along with the separations of thousands of twins, had been deliberate in order to conduct a study about twins. Why? That’s the mystery at the heart of this film. The study was never published and the results are locked until 2066. Many of twins suffured from depression or some form of mental illness, leading some to suicide. Although Three identical strangers is interesting mostly because the story is so gripping, it is very well made. We feel for Bobby and David, the two surviving twins, who are at the centre of the film.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

Three identical strangers

 

Directed by:
Tim Wardle

96 min.

Rated Parental Guidance

Leave no trace

Will (Ben Foster) and his daughter Tom (Thomasin McKenzie) live outdoors in a public park in Portland, Oregon. They’ve set up a camp under a tree with a small tarp covering their heads. They can either cook on a fire, when it’s not raining, or on a propane BBQ they have brought with them. This is their home. Tom is 13-year-old. They must be careful not to be seen, as it is illegal to live in a public park. Occasionally they have military drills as a practise in case they are discovered. Will is an army veteran, probably suffering from some form of PTSD. During his sleep he has nightmares, and he wakes with the sounds of helicopters ringing in his head. Then it happens. The cops find them. Authorities get involved. They are submitted to a series of stupid psychiatric tests with stupid questions. A social worker finds them a home where they can live. It’s on a farm where they grow Christmas trees. Will  works at the farm. But “civilization” is not Will’s thing. In a telling scene, he unplugs the TV set and puts it away in the closet. He rejects society and its values. So it’s not long before he decides that they have to leave. By that time Tom has made friends with a local boy who raises rabbits and started to get accustomed to school and a more regulated life. She reluctantly packs up and leaves with him. A series of accidents will make the journey back to wilderness difficult. Debra Granik’s assured direction is remarkable here. She does not need to over-dramatize. She only observes without judging. The characters are already infused with baggage that is so rich. These are people with very few words. There are no long speeches. Although it doesn’t sound like it, it makes it harder for actors to do. McKenzie and Foster have the added task of playing father and daughter, to create a bond out of thin air. I thought that Ben Foster has always been unappreciated, and I hope that he will finally get the acclaim that he deserves. His work here, as well as Granik’s and McKenzie’s should be applauded.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

 

Leave no trace

 

Directed by:
Debra Granik

Screenplay by:
Debra Granik
Anne Rosellini
Based on the novel My abandonment by Peter Rock

Starring:
Ben Foster
Thomasin McKenzie
Jeff Kober
Dale Dickey

109 min.

Rated Parental Guidance

Boundaries

It doesn’t take a very long time before you realize that road-movie Boundaries is one mother of a messy film. It’s a shame because I really like Vera Farmiga, Lewis MacDougall and Christopher Plummer, the film’s three main actors. Farmiga plays Laura Jaconi, a woman who finds comfort in picking up stray dogs and cats. There’s too many in the house, but every time she sees one, she can’t resist. Laura lives with her 13-year-old son, Henry (Scottish teen actor Lewis McDougall), who got kicked out of school for drawing his female teacher in a sexy pose…  naked. He does that to everyone including his mom lovers. And then there is Jack, Laura’s estranged father. She’s trying to avoid answering his insistent phone calls because she knows he’s trouble. And because she knows he never really loved her. But when she does answer he tells her that he’s been kicked of the retirement home because he was caught selling marijuana. He needs her help. She needs money to send Henry to private school. As played by Christopher Plummer, Jack has the air of a person you cannot help but love even though you damn well know you shouldn’t trust him. And of course he’s got perfect timing. The plan is to drive from Portland to Los Angeles (but it was filmed in Vancouver, BC), where Jack is supposed to stay with his other daughter JoJo (Kristen Schaal), who seems to occupy herself walking dogs. But Laura doesn’t know that in Jack’s luggage there is $200,000 worth of pot. To help him sell it he strikes a deal with Henry, his grandson. The pot is to be carried in adult diapers (Got it? As geriatric humour it’s not very subtle.). Along the way they visit some old friends (Christopher Lloyd and Peter Fonda) and Laura’s ex and Henry’s father (Bobby Cannavale). During the trip Laura starts to reconnect with her dad again. But the whole time he’s taking advantage of her, and enlisting her son to do the same. I found the film mean-spirited, and frankly not funny enough. Yes, I like Farmiga and Lewis MacDougall. and Christopher Plummer is great, as always. The characters are supposed to be quirky, but they are just messy people in a messy movie.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

 

Boundaries

 

Directed by:
Shana Feste

Screenplay by:
Shana Feste

Starring:
Vera Farmiga
Christopher Plummer
Lewis MacDougall
Peter Fonda
Kristen Schaal
Christopher Lloyd
Bobby Cannavale

104 min.

Rated 14A

The gospel according to André

André Leon Talley (AKA as ALT) is the in-your-face, larger-than-life gay African-American fashion journalist and former editor-at-large of Vogue. Kate Novack’s camera follows Talley for several months. He’s a big man who now mostly wears classy and colorful capes and caftans. Although he was born in Washington, D. C., Talley was raised by his grandmother, Binnie Francis Davis, in North Carolina in the Jim Crow South during the segregation era. After working at Andy Warhol’s Factory in New York in 1974, André started volunteering at Metropolitan museum of art for Diana Vreeland, than worked at Vogue in various functions from 1983 to 2013. With photos, film archives and interviews from his collaborators (among them Anna Wintour from Vogue) The gospel according to André gives us a mildly interesting portrait of what made André a fashion icon. But there’s another dramatic arch that takes over the film. The gospel according to André was shot during the 2016 American election. All I will tell you is that there is devastation the morning after the election. For that and for André Leon Talley, some may want to see it.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

The gospel according to André

 

Directed by:
Kate Novack

94 min.

Rated Parental Guidance

Hearts beat loud

The great chemistry between Nick Offerman and Kiersey Clemons is one of the main reason to go see Hearts beat loud. Offerman and Clemons play father and daughter Frank and Sam Fisher. As Frank is just about to close his Brooklyn vinyl record store after 17 years, Sam is leaving to college to study medicine. So Dad wants to jam with his daughter a few times before she leaves. Frank plays the guitar and Sam is on some sort of keyboards/samplers. When Frank ask Sam what they should call their band, Sam swiftly answers “We are not a band.”. So the name of the band becomes We are not a band. Sam has several things on her mind. Beside wanting to become a doctor, she’s in love with Rose (Sasha Lane). (Sam’s lesbianism is refreshingly not an issue for anyone in Hearts beat loud.) But Sam was born into music. Frank and Sam’s mom, who died in a bicycle accident, were in a band together, and Marianne, Frank’s mother and Sam’s grandmother (Blythe Danner, who unfortunately only has a few scenes) was a singer in her younger years. So “Music runs in the family” (as the tagline for the film says). Sam is interested enough with music that she writes songs, including a love song for Rose. It’s called Hearts beat loud, and Frank is so enthusiastic about the song that he puts it on Spotify where it becomes a hit. He is already planning for a world tour. Sam will have none of it, she loves singing with her Dad, but she’s leaving for college. Offerman and Clemons are so effective at recreating the love between fathers/mothers and daughters/sons. Their little arguments where Frank is trying to say something to make Sam laugh, but Sam, like all teenagers, never find her Dad funny. It all rings true. Toni Collette plays Leslie, Frank’s vinyl store landlady and possible love interest. And Ted Danson is Dave, Frank’s best friend who also owns a bar (Yes, Danson behind a bar again). But the film belongs to Kiersey Clemons, who, beside being a talented actress, has such a powerful singing voice. Hearts beat loud’s songs were all composed by Keegan DeWitt, including the inspired title song. In my favorite scene, Frank and Sam are recording Hearts beat loud. The arrangement is simple at first with only a few instruments, as more instruments are added, the song builds up layers upon layers. This seems an apt description for this film. It may seem at first a simple, charming film, but it becomes more complex and compelling. Still, it is charming.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

 

Hearts beat loud

 

Directed by:
Brett Haley

Screenplay by:
Brett Haley
Marc Basch

Starring:
Nick Offerman
Kiersey Clemons
Toni Collette
Ted Danson
Sasha Lane
Blythe Danner

97 min.

Rated Parental Guidance

First reformed

Paul Schrader is, for those who don’t know, the hard-hitting screenwriter of Martin Scorsese’s Taxi driver, Raging bull, and The last temptation Of Christ. As a director Schrader has been less successful. First reformed is probably his best film in a very long time. Ethan Hawke plays Reverend Ernst Toller, a newly appointed priest at the First reformed church in Snowbridge, New York He has started writing down his thoughts and feelings in a journal. Ernst has just come out of a very difficult time in his life. His only son, whom encouraged to enlist in the army, has been killed, and his marriage failed as a result. He drinks a bit too much, and although he has pains in the abdomen he won’t see a doctor. In other words: he’s a mess. Ernst is a soft-spoken man who rejects all of the bombastic over-the-top preachings heard at other evangelical churches. Because of that only a handful of people are attending mass at First reformed. But the 250th anniversary celebrations of the church are coming and some parishioners would like Ernst to adopt a more spectacular form of pulpit preaching. That’s when Mary (Amanda Seyfried) comes to seek Ernst’s help. Michael (Philip Ettinger), her husband, is a radical environmentalist who refuses to bring a child into the world and wants Mary to get an abortion. Ernst goes to talk to Michael but he remains convinced that there is no hope and that the world will come to an end. Ernst pleads with Michael to be hopeful even if things look desperate, but even he is not convinced that this is true. When Ernst shows up for a second meeting he finds Michael dead. He has shot himself. Among her husband’s belongings Mary finds a suicide vest, which Toller removes and takes with him to church. On Michael’s computer Ernst finds some proofs of the environmental disaster that Michael was predicting. His drinking gets worse and he gets more frantic as the 250th anniversary are approaching. This is a very strong screenplay by Schrader. In the words used, in the directing as well as the acting there is both a minimalism and an intense despair, a gentleness and a harshness. And Schrader has the perfect actor to play all the complexities and the contradictions of Reverend Ernst Toller. From film to film Ethan Hawke has been getting stronger, and here he espouses the life and the words of his character with such force that it kept me riveted to the screen. Perfect.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

First reformed

 

Directed by:
Paul Schrader

Screenplay by:
Paul Schrader

Starring:
Ethan Hawke
Amanda Seyfried
Philip Ettinger
Cedric Kyles

108 min.