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

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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.

Finding your feet

I don’t know how many British films like Finding your feet I’ve seen. The formula is easy: you take a respectable middle-age/elderly British actress, she’ll play a woman with a dramatic situation who copes by doing something that takes her out of her comfort zone, but makes them feel that they have accomplish a lot. The cynic in me calls that the “embracing life” or “climb every mountain” films. How do you like them clichés? In Calendar girls you had Dame Helen Mirren and Dame Julie Walters posing in a nude calendar to raise money for cancer, Song for Marion starred Dame Vanessa Redgrave as a cancer patient joining a choir. There are many other examples. There is a lot of laughs and pathos. That is why the those films are a big hit. But it has to be British. If Americans tried to do a film like that, it would be called corny, and it would be snubbed and laughed at. If it sounds as if I did not like Finding your feet, it is wrong. Well, I liked it more than I expected. It’s probably because of the three main actors. Imelda Staunton plays Lady Sandra Abbott, who finds out that Mike (John Sessions), her husband of 40 years, has been having an affair with her best friend. Ashamed and hurt she goes to live with her estranged sister, Bif (Celia Imrie, who was one of the Calendar girls). Bif lives on an inner-city apartment building, and the “Lady” lived in a rich mansion. Sandra is snobbish, doesn’t like anyone or anything, especially her life. Meanwhile, Bif is an “embracing life”, “climb every mountain” person. While Bif is going to community dance class for seniors, Sandra mopes around the apartment all day, drinking too much and feeling sorry for herself. It takes time, but with the influence of her older sister, Sandra is slowly getting out of her near comatose state. One of Sandra’s childhood dreams was to be a dancer, so Bif invites Sandra to join the dance class. There Sandra meets Charlie (Timothy Spall) and Jackie (Joanna Lumley). At first Sandra does not like Charlie very much, but he’s a very good dancer, and slowly they become closer. But Sandra ignores that Charlie is married, but his wife is suffering from advance stage Alzheimer, and does not recognize him. It is too much for Charlie and it may cause her more damage than good, so he stops visiting her. When a video of a dance that the group performed as a street celebration has gone viral, they are invited to go to Rome to perform at a festival. But Mike wants her to come back home. A lot of people will like Finding your feet. And so did I. Yes, the actors are good. This is a great part for Celia Imrie, who usually plays the best friend, the ex-wife or the mother. Here she is funny and touching. And so is Timothy Spall. The scenes where Charlie visits his wife are particularly effective and hard to watch. And Imelda Staunton is a great performer. She made me laugh and touched me. She is the main reason to go see Finding your feet. There is one small problem. The dance number in Rome is a big letdown. The expectations were raised quite high, but instead of having something that was extraordinary, we get something that doesn’t even match the quality of the rest of the film. The dance in Rome was such a disappointment. But if you wanna laugh and have a good cry… And it is British!

Rémi-Serge Gratton

Finding your feet

 

Directed by:
Richard Loncraine

Screenplay by:
Meg Leonard & Nick Moorcroft

Starring:
Imelda Staunton
Celia Imrie
Timothy Spall
Joanna Lumley
David Hayman
John Sessions
Josie Lawrence

111 min.

The death of Stalin

When Joseph Stalin suffered a cerebral hemorrhage in 1954 he urinated on himself. This is a true historical fact that is taken very lightly by director Armando Iannucci and his team. As Stalin’s associates are gathering around him they try to figure out what to do with him. He’s not dead yet, so they kneel to help him, and of course they kneel in the pee. They step in it or they touch him and retreat in disgust. It’s milked until its last drop. You’ve guessed it, The death of Stalin is a comedy about the death of Russian dictator Joseph Stalin (Adrian McLoughlin). The labyrinthine script is about the power struggle to take the job of Chairman of Council of ministers of the Soviet Union is lampooned. The next in line is the deputy chairman Georgy Malenkov (Jeffrey Tambor). But Lavrentiy Beria (Simon Russell Beale), chief of the Soviet security, sees an opportunity to take control. But Nikita Khrushchev (Steve Buscemi), then a Stalin adviser, is not happy with Beria (or with anything much). They’re all dumb and/or paranoid, and they hate one another. It’s a great cast but I can’t name all of them here. The most noteworthy are Monty Python’s Michael Palin, Rupert Friend as Vasily Stalin, Stalin’s demented son and Jason Isaacs as Georgy Zhukov, an aggressive military officer who wants to rule everyone. But the best performances are from Simon Russell Beale who gives the film its early drive, Buscemi who does the same in the second half. The death of Stalin is not always great or even funny. but it is fascinating. There is so many f-bombs it might put some people off. (The last time I’ve heard that many in a film was In the loop also directed by Iannucci) There was a lot of criticism about historical accuracy. Duh! Do I cared? Not really.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

The death of Stalin

 

Directed by:
Armando Iannucci

Screenplay by:
Armando Iannucci
David Schneider
Ian Martin
Peter Fellows
Based on the comic book La mort de Staline by Fabien Nury and Thierry Robin

Starring:
Simon Russell Beale
Steve Buscemi
Adrian McLoughlin
Andrea Riseborough
Michael Palin
Jeffrey Tambor
Rupert Friend
Jason Isaacs
Olga Kurylenko
Paul Whitehouse

106 min.

The party

I’ve never been a fan of director Sally Potter. Her new film, The party, is a uninterresting, annoyance of a film. It stars Kristin Scott Thomas as Janet, a politician from the opposition party, who has received an important promotion. Janet has invited a few friends to celebrate the good news. But her husband, Bill (Timothy Spall), sits around drinking too much and listening to music. He does not look to be in a celebratory mood. Then the guest arrive: cynical April (Patricia Clarkson, the only bright light among the cast), and her life-coach husband, Gottfried (Bruno Ganz), lesbian couple Martha (Cherry Jones) and Jinny (Emily Mortimer), announcing that Jinny is pregnant with triplets, and millionaire banker Tom (Cillian Murphy). A bunch of hysterical nuts! Tom’s wife, Marianne, will arrive later, Tom says before he goes to the washroom to snort some cocaine. Tom also brought a gun. During the evening Bill tells Janet that he is dying and leaving her for Marianne. Meanwhile, Janet is texting a secret lover. It becomes too busy with life-coach Gottfried trying to save the world, April insulting everyone, the lesbians fighting and Tom’s fits of jealous rage. It’s a mess! Shot in a very ugly black-and-white, it at times feels that it was a stage play. But nope, it’s an original screenplay by Potter. It begs the question: Why was it made? Just put The party in the WTF category and forget about it. It clocks in at only 71 minutes. Quite enough. Avoid!

Rémi-Serge Gratton

The party

 

Directed by:
Sally Potter

Screenplay by:
Sally Potter

Starring:
Kristin Scott Thomas
Timothy Spall
Patricia Clarkson
Bruno Ganz
Cherry Jones
Emily Mortimer
Cillian Murphy

71 min.

Rated 14A

Film stars don’t die in Liverpool

In Film stars don’t die in Liverpool, Annette Bening plays Gloria Grahame, a Best supporting actress Oscar winner in 1952 for The bad and the beautiful. The film is based on the memoirs of Peter Turner (Jamie Bell), a young British actor who became Grahame’s lover in the late 70s. There was close to 30 years difference between them. In 1981, soon after their break-up, Turner gets the news that Grahame is ill. She collapsed in her dressing room as she was about to go on stage in The glass menagerie. Turner goes to see her and he learns that she refuses to go to the hospital and does not want chemotherapy. All she wants is to go to Peter Turner’s house in Liverpool where she knows that Peter’s family will take care of her. Peter’s parents, Bella and Joe (Julie Walters and Kenneth Cranham) are happy to help their friend Gloria but, along with Peter’s brother, Joe Jr. (Stephen Graham), they think that she should call her children and her doctors in New York. As Peter is making the decision to call them, he remembers the beginning of their love affair. Director Paul McGuigan’s flashbacks are so compelling. It’s like Turner sees his memories. He peeks through a door and peeks, literally, into his remembrance. You don’t often see the “young man in love” as very compelling characters. Those are usually the most boring characters. But there is such an emotional investment, both physical and intellectual, from Jamie Bell that we can’t help cheering for Peter Turner. The film is conceptually quite beautiful. I was surprised to see several scenes with rear projections matte paintings, methods that were in use in movies until the 1960s. It’s as if McGuigan wants to underline that Gloria Grahame was a 40s and 50s movie star. In 1981 her best year are behind her, that’s true. But the way Bening plays her, she’s still a star. Actually, Bening is a star playing a star. Whether she’s dancing disco with Peter or dying of cancer in bed, Gloria Grahame was a star. At some point Matt Greenhalgh’s screenplay switches the flashbacks from Peter’s point of view to Gloria’s. At that moment Annette Bening becomes a tragedienne. A tour-de-force acting from both Bell and Bening.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

Film stars don’t die in Liverpool

 

Directed by:
Paul McGuigan

Screenplay by:
Matt Greenhalgh
Based on the memoir by Peter Turner

Starring:
Annette Bening
Jamie Bell
Julie Walters
Vanessa Redgrave
Kenneth Cranham
Stephen Graham

105 min.