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

Plays at Ottawa’s ByTowne Cinema from September 14 – 23
https://www.bytowne.ca/movie/the-children-act

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

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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

Beast

Although it is promising at the starts, Beast piles up the melodrama and the clichés so high that by the end it has become a unwatcable mess. Meet Moll (Jessie Buckley), a young woman living with her refined family on the British island of Jersey. Moll seems to be under the strict control of mom Hilary (Geraldine James) because of something terrible she did in her teen. We’re not told what it was, but it is almost certain that we’re going to know by the end of the film. During her own birthday party, Moll runs away to go drink and dance at a bar. The young man she meets there will later become a bit too insistent. Moll is saved from rape by Pascal (Johnny Flynn). When Moll falls for Pascal, her family tries to dissuade her from seeing him: he’s not from the same class as they are, to them he’s unkempt. And it gets worse when news comes that a serial killer has been raping and killing young women. Hilary and the family thinks it might be Pascal. So does the police. A detective (Trystan Gravelle) starts asking Moll some questions. Moll lies to cover for her lover. With his disheveled head of blond hair, his unshaved and scarred face (The scar may be a real one. The South African-born British Flynn has facial scarring from an attack by a dog when he was a child in South Africa.), Pascal may be the “beast” of the title, but there are many beasts in the film.: Moll is a beast because of her violent past, but also for the way to acts just in defiance of her mom’s constraints; mom/Hilary is also a beast, who is unfairly rigid with her daughter while trying to maintain the perfect picture of a good family. There are certainly good performance from Buckley and James. Buckley has such a busy part with some of it at such an emotional high pitch, that it would be hard not to see the quality in her acting. If she were a bad actress , it would be laughable, but not her. I a smaller part, Geraldine James is a minimalist by comparison to Jessie Buckley, but of course the two parts are different. What is so frustrating is that the film never seem to know how or when it’s going to end. Is he guilty? No he’s not. Then: Yes he is. No. Yes. What is she doing? Why? Does she think he’s the serial killer? No. Yes. Maybe. It’s like a daytime American soap, not much better. Is that what passes for good dramas in England these days? Unless you’re a lover of everything and anything British, avoid.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

 

Beast

 

Directed by:
Michael Pearce

Screenplay by
Michael Pearce

Starring:
Jessie Buckley
Johnny Flynn
Geraldine James
Trystan Gravelle

107 min.

Rated 14A

Grace Jones: Bloodlight and Bami

A fan: Would you ever do another movie?
Grace Jones: My own!

Well, this as close as you can get. Sophie Fiennes’s documentary is a small glare into the personality of the legendary singer. Do we really know who is Grace Jones after this film? I don’t think so. But we can see that she can’t be easily defined. She’s strong-willed when we see her on the phone trying to reach an agreement to get the musicians she hired to the recording studio. She’s producing her own album with her own money, there is no time waiting around the studio while the musicians are waking up from an all-night party. She travels back to her native Jamaica with her son to be with her mother and her family. There she is laughing as they reminisce about the past and attends church where her mother is singing a gospel song. In Paris, she sings (or rather lip sync) her famous La vie en rose for French TV. This is France, so of course the choreography (?) shows sexy young girls in pink baby dolls while Jones sits on a stool. She does not like it, she tells the producer it’s tacky and corny and she wants it scrapped. But it’s when Jones is on-stage that the film comes alive. The pulsating beats of the music, her incredible stage presence wearing the weirdest hats, masks and costume. On the stage Grace Jones is a giant. Fiennes was allowed to follow Jones in most aspect of her life. We even see Jones naked several times. At 70, Jones doesn’t seem to be afraid of anything.

You should know… The “bami” in the title is a traditional Jamaican flatbread very popular in rural communities.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

Grace Jones: Bloodlight and Bami

 

Directed by:
Sophie Fiennes

115 min.

In English and French with English subtitles.

Disobedience

Chilean director Sebastián Lelio’s films are about women who proudly dare to defy conventions. His 2013 film Gloria was about a 58 year-old divorcee who decides to seek love, fun and sex. Last year’s A fantastic woman featured a transgendered woman after the death of her partner. It won the Academy award for Best foreign language film. His new film is Disobedience, an Irish-British-American co-production set in the Orthodox Jewish community of London. Rachel Weisz serves as a producer and also plays Ronit, a New York photographer who goes back home when she learns that her estranged father, Rabbi Krushka, has died. Judging by everyone’s reactions, it seems that she was not expected to return, and some were probably hoping that she would stay away. Dovid (Alessandro Nivola), a Rabbi and her father’s spiritual son, is certainly surprised to see her since nobody, to his knowledge, had sent Ronit the news of her father’s passing. She feels that people are looking at her and judging her. Ronit wears none of the traditional Orthodox Jewish women’s clothing, like a sheitel (a wig that is worn to show modesty). It is clear that some women from the community don’t like her very much. That’s not the case with her old friend Esti (London, Ontario native Rachel McAdams), who is now married to Dovid. The three were friends and they still are, but that does not mean they are not awkward around her. And then we learn that Ronit and Esti were lovers in their youth. Now they fall in each other’s arms again. And when they are seen kissing in public, it puts Esti in an even more awkward position, but that scandal may also liberates her. Maybe she doesn’t want to stop loving Ronit. The most stunning thing about this amazing film is its originality. During Ronit and Esti’s passionate love-making, Ronit drips saliva into Esti’s mouth. There is brilliance in the casting of Weisz, McAdams and Nivola. But it’s McAdams that shines here. It’s an assured performance. She never been as good or as beautiful as she is here. Matthew Herbert orchestral score may be some of the most peculiarly effective music for film. It is hesitant and doesn’t spell out everything neatly for us, it comes in waves and breeze, both sudden and subtle, melodic and atonal, in crescendos and decrescendos. Like this film and Lelio, it marvelously defies conventions.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

 

Disobedience

 

Directed by:
Sebastián Lelio

Screenplay by:
Sebastián Lelio
Rebecca Lenkiewicz
Based on the novel by Naomi Alderman

Starring:
Rachel Weisz
Rachel McAdams
Alessandro Nivola

114 min.

Rated 14

On Chesil Beach

Un vol d’oiseau traverse un ciel trop beau.
Tu pars avec eux sans retour,
Et pour moi il, ne fait plus jour.

Ton départ, Clémence DesRochers

For their wedding night in 1962 Florence Ponting and Edward Mayhew (Saiorse Ronan and Billy Howle) have rented a room in a small hotel at Chesil Beach. From the delicious dinner, served in their room by two waiter from room service, to the bed, memories from their disfunctional lives come rushing back to blur the deep love they share for each other. At times they look like two deers caught in the headlights. Yes, I repeat: this is 1962, England. Two words: sexual repression. They are too young, naive and both are virgins. This a “love at first sight” affair. They met as he was studying history and she the violin. Through the flashback we see that they are very much in love. But Edward’s mother (Anne-Marie Duff) suffered a mental illness and several times he witnessed her walking around the house naked. And there are hints that Florence was sexually abused by her father and because of that she is repulsed by sex. On Chesil Beach is basically a two character, minimalist screenplay by Ian McEwan, who adapted his own novel. He keeps it simple, and it works pretty well as he effectively gets into each characters head. And this can’t work unless the two young leads (who we first saw together in The seagull) are well casted and directed. We’ve seen what Saoirse Ronan can do, how much of a range she has as an actress. Billy Howle is the revelation here. Edward is such a fragile young man that when he arrives at Chesil Beach on his wedding night he is just about to explode. Howle gives a much detailed performance. It has a pleasant soundtrack with a mix of classical music and 60s rock-and-roll. Production values are excelent, though the makeup in the later scenes could have been much better. On Chesil Beach is helped greatly by cinematographer Sean Bobbitt who shows us that sad stories seem even sadder on a sunny summer beach.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

On Chesil Beach

 

Directed by:
Dominic Clarke

Screenplay by:
Ian McEwan
Based on his own novel

Starring:
Saoirse Ronan
Billy Howle
Emily Watson
Anne-Marie Duff
Samuel West

110 min.

Journey’s end

This is World War I and young fresh-faced Second Lieutenant Raleigh (Asa Butterfield) gleefully arrives in the trenches at Saint-Quentin, France. He asked his uncle to be stationed with his old friend Captain Stanhope (Sam Claflin) and his wishes has been granted. But the boy’s innocent smile soon turns sour when he realises that war has changed his friend. Stanhope has become a bitter, angry and aggressive man who drinks too much. In the officers’ dugout there is also Lieutenant Osborne (Paul Bettany), a very fine gentleman who is trying his best to support and understand Stanhope. Private Mason (Toby Jones) is the cook. There is not much sun coming in the muddy and dirty trenches and the soldiers spend long hours waiting. Stanhope has heard from his superiors that the Germans are planning an attack, now known as the deadly Operation Michael. And Stanhope is ordered to do a daylight raid on the Germans prior to the attack Raleigh and Osborne are among the men that are sent. Some will come back, some won’t. This is a very fine film adaptation of the classic 1928 British play. Although it has been opened up a bit, it still remains a play. The British cast is superb. My first thought upon seeing Asa Butterfield was that he looks like a silent film star. The point that is made with Journey’s end is that wars can mark a person physically, but mentally as well. That is if you can survive. War is hell!

Rémi-Serge Gratton

 

Journey’s end

 

Directed by:
Saul Dibb

Screenplay by:
Simon Reade
Based on the play by R.C. Sherriff

Starring:
Asa Butterfield
Sam Claflin
Paul Bettany
Tom Sturridge
Toby Jones

107 min.

Rated 14A

Final portrait

In 1964 Swiss painter and sculptor Alberto Giacometti wanted to paint a portrait of his American friend and biographer James Lord, and asked Lord to pose for him. Lord met Giacometti in his dirty and dusty studio in Paris. Lord (Armie Hammer) thought it would only take a few days, but Giacometti (Geoffrey Rush) only paints a few strokes, stops, looks at what he’s done, swears at it and smears the painting with some white paint. So he has to start again. And that’s not all. Giacometti’s private life is complicated by his love for his wife, Annette (Sylvie Testud) and his model, Caroline (Clémence Poésy), who is also a prostitute. Lord has to cancel his flight back to America several times, hoping in vain that Giacometti will be able to one day finish the portrait. Happily he has Alberto’s brother, Diego (Tony Shalhoub), to keep him company. Final portrait is a mess. Where do I start? Australian actor Geoffrey Rush, as always, is overacting and repetitive. When Giacometti is swearing at his canvas, you would expect a good actor to do some variations. But Rush says the same swear word the same way every time. That action is replayed so many times during the film that it becomes annoying. And several scenes of Giacomett and Lord walking in what looks like the Père Lachaise cemetery are also repetitive. The film is ugly. Everything looks gray (dirty and dusty?) and I could not believe we were really in Paris. And lastly, I found the whole film and the story to be uninteresting. To avoid!

Rémi-Serge Gratton

Final portrait

 

Directed by:
Stanley Tucci

Screenplay by:
Stanley Tucci

Starring:
Geoffrey Rush
Armie Hammer
Clémence Poésy
Tony Shalhoub
James Faulkner
Sylvie Testud

90 min.

Rated 14A

In English, Italian and French with English subtitles.