Nothing like a Dame

L´été, quand il fait beau soleil,
Je vois souvent passer deux vieilles
Qui marchent en se tenant le bras,
Elles s´arrêtent à tous les dix pas
Quand j´entends leur éclat de rire
J´ai un peu moins peur de vieillir

Deux vieilles, Clémence Desrochers

 

They occasionally meet for tea. Those four Dames of the British theatre: Judi Dench, Maggie Smith, Eileen Atkins and Joan Plowright. South African theatre, television and film director Roger Michell had the brilliant idea of filming their conversation where the four ladies are remembering their lives on stage and movies. Laurence Olivier’s widow, Joan Plowright is 89, she has now lost her sight and hasn’t been working since 2014. Maggie Smith remembers how dreadful it was to work with Olivier. And Plowright agrees. Judi Dench says that she started popularity came to her after she played Queen Victoria in the Mrs Brown film, then the following year she played Queen Elizabeth I in Shakespeare in love. The others teasingly call her “the Queen”. Eileen Atkins is the least well-known of the four Dames. They discuss about the traditional way to play Shakespeare, using the iambic pentameter, or a more modern, realistic approach. Dench talks about her James Bond films. Maggie Smith reveals that she does not care much about the Harry Potter movies and that she has never seen an episode of Downton Abbey. “I’ve got the box set.”, she says with a smile. The Dames are a tiny bit nostalgic, not much. Mostly they are very funny and warm. I had a very nice afternoon tea with the Dames.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

Nothing like a Dame

 

Directed by:
Roger Michell

84 min.

Rated General

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At eternity’s gate

At eternity’s gate is about the last years of Vincent van Gogh’s life. Living in France with Paul Gauguin (Oscar Isaac) at Auvers-sur-Oise, van Gogh (Willem Dafoe) shows early signs of mental illness. How do we know? We know because director Julian Schnabel’s camera is telling us in no subtle ways, by blurring and discoloring van Gogh’s point of view or overlapping images and dialogue tracks to imitate a sense of confusion (duh!). But he has other camera tricks. At eternity’s gate has the most unstable camera since The Blair witch project (remember?), and the cameraman seems unable to focus or keep his footing and takes extreme close-ups of van Gogh’s face, his nose, his mouth, his head and his scalp. (Oh no! It’s The Blair witch project part 3!) The painter’s disagreements with Gauguin seems to be the cause of all his anguish. He has a very loving relationship with his brother Theo (Rupert Friend) who helps him as much as he can. After spending some time in a mental institution, van Gogh is released and moves to Arles, Bouches-du-Rhône where he will spend his last 80 days and create 75 paintings. Yes Willem Dafoe is great, but his efforts are muffled by Schnabel’s patchwork approach to cinema. It’s annoying and a mess. Avoid!

Rémi-Serge Gratton

 

Plays at Ottawa’s ByTowne Cinema on February 1 – 3
https://www.bytowne.ca/movie/at-eternitys-gate

 

At eternity’s gate

 

Directed by:
Julian Schnabel

Screenplay by:
Jean-Claude Carrière
Louise Kugelberg
Julian Schnabel

Starring:
Willem Dafoe
Rupert Friend
Oscar Isaac
Mads Mikkelsen
Mathieu Amalric
Emmanuelle Seigner

110 min.
.
In English and French with English subtitles

The happy prince

The happy prince is an Oscar Wilde biopic about the last years of his life. After spending a few years of hard labour in British prisons for homosexuality, Oscar Wilde goes to Paris where he can live without fear under the name of Sebastian Melmoth. Although Wilde (Rupert Everett) is physically weaker as a result of his time in prison where he had to endure a lot, he also retains a bloated ego. He is shown going to a French tavern, standing on tables to sing with great panache. And there’s the young male prostitute who seems to be in awe of him. At home in England, his wife, Constance (Emily Watson), won’t allow him to see his sons unless he stops seeing his lover young Lord Alfred “Bosie” Douglas (Colin Morgan). But in Paris Wilde can’t wait to be reunited with Bosie. He gets a lot of support from his ex-lover Robbie Ross (Edwin Thomas) or friends like Reggie Turner (Colin Firth). This great cast also includes Tom Wilkinson in a small if-you-blink-you’ll-miss-it cameo. As Oscar Wilde becomes weaker he starts having weird visions. In one stunning moment, a stoic Queen Victoria is staring at Wilde on his deathbed. Except for a few flashback snippets, most of the film shows Wilde at the end of life. On top of playing Rupert Everett playing Oscar Wilde, he also wrote the screenplay and directed the film. The film is all over the place and needed a bit more focus, but it’s excusable as Wilde had a big over the top persona. And Everett plays a complex, multifaceted character. One moment joyous, then depressed and depressing, jumping on tables to quietly singing a love song to some boy (it’s surely Bosie) or later self-pitying. The production values are excellent. What’s not to like?

Rémi-Serge Gratton

 

The happy prince

 

Directed by:
Rupert Everett

Screenplay by:
Rupert Everett

Starring:
Rupert Everett
Edwin Thomas
Colin Morgan
Colin Firth
Benjamin Voisin
Emily Watson
Tom Wilkinson
Béatrice Dalle
Anna Chancellor

105 min.

The wife

In The wife Glenn Close and Jonathan Pryce are Joan and Joe Castleman. In the film’s opening scene, they receive the news that Joe has been awarded the Nobel Prize in literature. As we look into Close’s piercing blue eyes, we’re not quite sure what Joan feels when she gets the news. Is Joan happy, angry, sad or just plain mad? All of the above at once and more. Soon the Castleman fly to Stockholm accompanied by their adult son David (Max Irons). David who has a highly dysfunctional relationship with his father, is also a writer. Journalist Nathaniel Bone (a miscast Christian Slater) is traveling on the same plane. Nathaniel wants to write Joe Castleman’s unauthorized biography in which reveal that all of Joe’s novel were the work of a ghostwriter. With that cloud, true or not, hanging over their heads, David’s temper tantrums, Joe’s attempt to cheat on his wife again for the nth time by seducing a young Swedish photographer (Karin Franz Korlof) and Joan seeking more independence, things are about to explode. There are some misguided flashbacks to their earlier years, but the only thing that we want and need is Close and Pryce together. Pryce hasn’t been a leading man in a long time and now he has found the right part and the right partner. Close and Pryce enjoy sinking their teeth into those juicy parts. And the moviegoers should also enjoy it!

Rémi-Serge Gratton

 

The wife

 

Directed by:
Björn Runge

Screenplay by:
Jane Anderson
Based on the novel by Meg Wolitzer

Starring:
Glenn Close
Jonathan Pryce
Annie Starke
Harry Lloyd
Christian Slater
Max Irons
Elizabeth McGovern

101 min.

Rated 14A

Colette

Gabrielle Colette (1873 – 1954) was one of the most important female writer. Wash Westmoreland’s exquisite Colette smartly sticks to the facts. She was born in the small country village of Saint-Sauveur-en-Puisaye, Burgundy. Gabrielle’s father was a war hero who lost one of his leg in battle. At the time she marries Henry Gauthier-Villars (Dominic West) the family is so poor that they can’t give him a dowry. Fourteen years older, Gauthier-Villars was a publisher/author. In truth, published under the pseudonym of “Willy”, his novels were mostly all ghostwritten. This enterprise is not a great success until he asks Gabrielle (Keira Knightley) to write. She writes Claudine à l’école (Claudine in school) was loosely based on her own life as a schoolgirl. It is published in 1900 under Willy’s name and becomes very popular but creates a scandal because of the lesbian themes which further boosts its popularity. It is so popular that Willy locks Gabrielle in her room until she writes a follow-up: Claudine à Paris (Claudine in Paris). Again Willy takes all the credits and squander all the money gambling or on other women. When Colette tells her husband that she’s attracted to women, Willy does not seemed concerned in the least. She doesn’t know that one of her female lover is also Willy’s lover. Over the years Colette gained more independence, became an actress, fell in love with female-to-male cross-dresser Mathilde de Morny (Denise Gough) and divorced Willy. Wash Westmoreland has a great production team (costumes, sets, score, cinematography…). It is beautiful. And Keira Knightley as strong female icon Colette has never looked better and nuanced. Bravo! Colette is much fun to watch.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

Colette

 

Directed by:
Wash Westmoreland

Screenplay by:
Richard Glatzer
Wash Westmoreland
Rebecca Lenkiewicz

Starring:
Keira Knightley
Dominic West
Denise Gough
Eleanor Tomlinson
Fiona Shaw

111 min.

Rated 14A

My generation

Michael Caine goes back in time to the 1960s when everything British was popular. It was called “The British invasion”, The Beatles and its “Beatlemania” being the earliest manifestation of the invasion. But My generation is about every aspect of the British counterculture. Caine interviews fashion model Twiggy and photographer David Bailey, film producer David Putnam, actress Joan Collins, singers like Lulu and Marianne Faithfull, The who’s Roger Daltrey, and Paul McCartney from The Beatles. The unusual decision was made to only play the audio of their conversations while on the screen we see their younger images from film archives. Lots of them, sometimes at too fast a psychedelic pace that will annoy some. But a soundtrack of great songs from the era will please many. Among the songs (I can’t get no) Satisfaction by The Rolling Stones and Strawberry fields forever by The Beatles with its brilliant arrangements. My generation is a fun documentary. For the lovers of British culture.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

 

My generation

 

Directed by:
David Batty

Screenplay by:
Dick Clement
Ian La Frenais

Documentary featuring Michael Caine

85 min.

Rated Parental Guidance

The children act

Judge Fiona Maye of the British High court of justice specializing in family law, has some very difficult cases to review. As the film opens, Fiona is writing a decision about conjoined twins. The hospital wants to separate the babies, claiming that both are going to die if they don’t. If separated, only one will survive. The parents refuse to separate, so it’s up to Judge Maye (Emma Thompson) to decide. She’s a total professional, emotionally detached from the cases that are brought to her. What’s important to her is the law. While preparing for her next case, Fiona’s husband Jack (Stanley Tucci) tells her that she’s working too much. He complains that they never have time to be together, they haven’t had sex in 11 months, so he announces he’s going to have an affair. She’s stunned and angry, of course. She cuts of their conversation, and Jack packs up and goes to have an affair. Her next case is about 17-year-old Adam who has leukemia. Adam (Fionn Whitehead) and his parents are Jehovah’s witnesses and they refuse the blood transfusion that would save the boy. The doctors want to save Adam’s life. After hearing the arguments from both side, Fiona makes the unusual decision to visit Adam at hospital. What makes The children act stand out from other similar British drama is Emma Thompson’s cutting performance. It is precise, cold, calculated, and eventually emotionally draining. When Thompson’s expressive cold stare meets Fionn Whitehead (as Adam), it’s a magical moment. Whitehead’s passion is somehow nothing out of the ordinary. It’s the later obsession that is compelling. Enough said. Thompson, Whitehead and Tucci are a dream cast. The soundtrack has traditional songs performed by Thompson. And a beautiful score by Stephen Warbeck has piano (Judge Maye plays the piano) and guitar (Adam is seen playing guitar). Cinematographer Andrew Dunn seemed to have taken a cue from Judge Maye. He uses a small sample of greys and blacks. Why? Maybe it’s because you won’t foresee the sudden emotions that will grab you. Just like Judge Fiona Maye. Maybe.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

The children act

 

Directed by:
Richard Eyre

Screenplay by:
Ian McEwan
Based on his own novel

Starring:
Emma Thompson
Fionn Whitehead
Stanley Tucci
Ben Chaplin

105 min.

Rated Parental Guidance

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

The bookshop

“Watching this film was like reading a good book”, a friend once said to me as we were coming out of a screening. “So, it was not like watching a film?”, I replied. When reviewing a film adapted from a literary work, I seldom have read the book before seeing the film. My opinion of the film is solely based on the film’s quality. A film is not a novel, there is no reason why they should be judged by the same standards. The bookshop, Isabel Coixet’s adaptation of Penelope Fitzgerald’s popular 1978 novel, is set in 1959 in the fictional coastal town of Hardborough, Suffolk. Recently widowed Florence Green (Emily Mortimer) comes to town to open a bookshop in the Old house. Invited to a small reception given by Mrs. Violet Gamart (Patricia Clarkson), Florence is told by Mrs. Gamart that she cannot open a bookshop. According to Gamart, nobody reads in Hardborough, except the reclusive Mr. Brundish (Bill Nighy), who lives in the house at the top of the hill. And Gamart plans to open an arts centre in the Old house. Despite the warnings, Florence opens the shop. To assist her she hires Christine (the excellent Honor Kneafsey), a young feisty girl. Mr. Brundish starts writing letters asking Florence to send him books she thinks he might enjoy. She sends Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451. He likes it and wants to read more from Bradbury. Then she sends Mr. Brundish Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita to read, asking him if she should order more. The widow display featuring the scandalous book creates a small scandal. And it seems that everyone in town is conspiring against Florence and the bookshop, even people she thought were her friends. Meanwhile, Florence and Mr. Brundish meet and become friends, and even more. He vows to fight to keep the bookshop open. For the first quarter of the film there is a female narrator, that very literary device, telling us what the characters are feeling, what they are doing and why. A good film with a good screenplay does not need and should not have a narrator. (There are exceptions: Martin Scorcese’s The age of innocence) If there has to be one, it must be used with moderation. For a while you thought the whole film would be like that. I was happy when the narration was dropped. It almost seems as if this is based on a children’s novel. In fact Penelope Fitzgerald’s The bookshop is very thin (about 118 pages). The evil Mrs. Violet Gamart, as played by a scene stealing Patricia Clarkson, is a good example of apparent civility. impeccably dressed, always smiling, she never raises her voice. Why would she? She knows that she has complete control and that she’s going to win. Coixet is using a lot of bright colors in the costumes or in the sets. It reverts back to a more innocent time, well at least it had the appearance of innocence. The film is too artificial to be taken seriously and to be believable. And there is that narrator that still irks me. Whatever the reasons. Only for those who like watching films as if they were reading books.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

The bookshop

 

Directed by:
Isabel Coixet

Screenplay by:
Isabel Coixet
Based on the novel by Penelope Fitzgerald

Starring:
Emily Mortimer
Patricia Clarkson
Bill Nighy
Honor Kneafsey
James Lance

113 min.

McQueen

Most of us know next to nothing about British fashion designer Alexander McQueen. But after seeing Ian Bonhôte and Peter Ettedgui’s documentary we now perceive McQueen as a brilliant conceptual artist, and not simply as a fashion icon. His runway shows were so dark and controversial. He titled his graduation collection Jack the ripper stalks his victims. The clothes had been sewn with bright red threads, lines of blood was running through the fabric. A later collection called Highland rape had models wearing ripped clothes, their hairs dishevelled. In the film we discover that as a child, Lee (as family and close friend called him. His full name was Lee Alexander McQueen.) was sexually abused by his brother-in-law, his sister Janet’s husband. Janet, who is interviewed in the film, confirms that. Other family members, close friends, lovers, boyfriends and collaborators talk about the darkness he carried with him throughout his life. Later, when he went to Paris to work for Givenchy, he was a bit more conventional. A bit! If you can call a double amputee model walking down the catwalk on carved wooden legs “conventional”. In one spectacular moment a model wearing a strapless white dress is standing on a rotating section of the catwalk and, while she is rotating, the dress is being sprayed by two robotic paint guns. VOSS, his 2001 catwalk, was insane. It was set in a padded room with mirrors, the models were acting as if they were crazy, pieces from the clothes were falling on the floor. A glass room was in the middle of the runway. Inside, it was revealed later, (when the glass walls came crashing down and breaking on the floor) there was a naked obese woman on a chaise longue wearing only a gas mask. One reviewer called it “the best pieces of fashion theatre I have ever witnessed.” “Fashion theatre” is I think a fitting description for what McQueen was doing. But McQueen was a troubled man. Troubled by too much drugs, the failure of his love life and the suicide of his mentor, Isabella Blow. What is clear in McQueen is that he was a genius and that, at 40 in 2010, he died too soon. We are grateful, through this documentary, to get a peek into his artistry and his brilliant mind.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

McQueen

 

Directed by:
Ian Bonhôte
Peter Ettedgui

Screenplay by:
Peter Ettedgui

111 min.

Rated 14A