All is true

We are told at the start of All is true that during the first run of William Shakespeare’s Henry VIII in 1613, a special effect cannon caused a fire that destroyed the Globe theatre. Henry VIII was Shakespeare’s last play, we are told. All is true was Henry VIII‘s alternative title. Shakespeare (Branagh) retires to his house in Stratford-upon-Avon with his wife, Anne Hathaway (Judi Dench). During his long career as a playwright/actor, he ignored his family. Anne is a few years older than him. At 84, Judi Dench is a very old 57 years old woman. Judith (Kathryn Wilder), his unmarried, sharp-tongued daughter, is bitter about her father’s absence. She is still mourning the death of Hamnet, her twin brother, who died at 10 years of age. Shakespeare is sometimes visited by the ghost of his dead son. It’s a clever reversal of Hamlet, here the ghost of the son appears to the father. Susanna (Lydia Wilson), his older daughter is married to Puritan John Hall. Oh, and she may be having a scandalous affair with another man. All Shakespeare really wants is peaceful life and to work on a garden honoring Hamnet. With the coming of the Earl of Southampton (a lively but too short appearance by Ian McKellen), Anne has to question her husband. Is it true that Shakespeare and the Earl were lovers? Some of Shakespeare’s sonnets are about his love of another man. There are excellent production values (set, costumes, cinematographer) and great acting, in particular from McKellen and Wilder. All is true suffers from a lack of excitement and a slowness in the early scenes. But it later recovers to give us a touching film about the last years of a brilliant writer. I’m not sure if “all is true”, but does it really matter. Your choice.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

Plays at Ottawa’s ByTowne Cinema from June 21 – 28
https://www.bytowne.ca/movie/all-is-true

All is true

Directed by:
Kenneth Branagh

Screenplay by:
Ben Elton

Starring:
Kenneth Branagh
Judi Dench
Ian McKellen
Lydia Wilson
Kathryn Wilder
Jimmy Yuill

101 min.

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Edmond

Edmond Rostand’s Cyrano de Bergerac is considered one of France’s best plays. Edmond is Alexis Michalik’s screen adaptation of his own play. But like the film, it is more complicated than that. Originally Michalik wrote a screenplay, but he could not find anyone who wanted to produce it. So he turned it into a play, and once it became successful on stage, it could then become a film. Edmond is not a biopic, but a comedy about the creation of Cyrano de Bergerac. In Cyrano de Bergerac two men are in love with the lovely Roxane: her cousin Cyrano, secretly enamoured, but feeling that his ugliness, especially his long nose are going to chase her away; and the handsome Christian, who is so shy that he is incapable to proclaim his love to Roxane. So it is Cyrano who has to hides under the balcony and tells her how much he loves her and write all those love letters, while Christian takes all the credit and the love of Roxane. In the film, Rostand (Thomas Solivérès) has to hide under a balcony and write love letters to help his friend, actor Leo Volny (Tom Leeb), who will eventually play Christian, seduce the beautiful Jehane (Lucie Boujenah). Leo is also pretending to be poet playwright Edmond Rostand because she loves his plays. If it sounds complicated that’s because it is. Doing this inspires Rostand to write Cyrano de Bergerac. He has been commissioned to write a comedy for actor Constant Coquelin (Olivier Gourmet). It is while writing love letters that he is writing the play. The fact that Rostand has a wife complicate things even more as he has to explain to her that he would never cheat on her because he loves her (Duh! Yeah right! In 1915 he left her for an actress more than half his age). But when it comes into producing and rehearsing the play, there’s plenty of problems that pop up. Some really happened, but most are invented by Michalik. The main characters are really the actors who opened Cyrano de Bergerac. Michalik himself is playing playwright Georges Feydeau, Rostand’s rival. The pace is frantic, but without knowing Rostand’s other so-called comedies, Edmond‘s style of comedy feels more like a Georges Feydeau’s more popular and populist comedies. A more frantic Georges Feydeau, but a Georges Feydeau nevertheless. How can you play tribute to one author by imitating another? But as I said, I know nothing else by Edmond Rostand. But I know Feydeau. At times Edmond can be fun. But it is when Olivier Gourmet as actor Coquelin start playing Rostand’s Cyrano de Bergerac that the really comes alive. No imitation there! Gourmet and Rostand are the real thing. Production values are excellent, (costumes, sets, hairs, make up and mustaches all look right), except the special effects. There is a shot of Paris in 1897 that is worse CGI I’ve seen lately. If it is CGI. It looks like an animated film or a painted background. Most people will have fun. If they love French films and don’t ask too many questions.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

Edmond

 

Directed by:
Alexis Michalik

Screenplay by:
Alexis Michalik
Based on his play

Starring:
Thomas Solivérès
Olivier Gourmet
Mathilde Seigner
Tom Leeb
Lucie Boujenah
Clémentine Célarié

110 min.

In French with English subtitles.

Stan & Ollie

Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy were one of the most brilliant comedy duos working in silent and early talking films. Those of us who have enjoyed their films will never forget Laurel and Hardy. Some of the most memorable moments are reproduced here with great care by American actor John C. Reilly and British actor Steve Coogan. While they are making their classic 1937 comedy Way out west, Stan refuses to renew his contract with producer Hal Roach and wants to sign with another studio. Oliver disagrees, and because of his refusal to follow his partner’s plan, Stan will feel betrayed and bitter for years. Jump forward to 1953 when they haven’t done a film in two years film. They have accepted a tour of British Music halls. The producer Bernard Delfont (Rufus Jones) has booked them in small second class theatres, and with no publicity, the comedians have to play to empty houses. To top it all they have to sleep in cheap hotels or bed and breakfast/ guesthouses. Delfont tells them that unless they do some publicity and public appearances, he can’t promise better venues or that they can even finish the tour. He was right, after small efforts from Stan and Ollie and word of mouth, they start filling the theatres and become a great success. Soon they are joined by their wives Lucille Laurel and Ida Hardy (Shirley Henderson and Nina Arianda). Everyone gets along fine, if you don’t count Stan’s resentments from the past rearing its ugly head once in a while, and Ollie’s health. Oliver has gained some weight and at his age, life on the road has become difficult. John C. Reilly (helped by tons of make up) and Steve Coogan look so much like the real Laurel and Hardy and they worked so hard at their timing and the routines. When the two are on stage it’s a tour-de-force. It is less successful when they are seen doing comedy in their daily lives. Stan and Ollie checking in at the hotel and trying to impress an unimpressed the hotel clerk doesn’t quite work. But that’s a small problem that won’t spoil the joy of Laurel/Coogan and Hardy/Reilly. I should also note that Henderson and Arianda have worked out a pleasurable little comic duo of their own. This has been made for people like me who know and have enjoyed Laurel and Hardy, but also for the younger generations to discover them. That’s what I hope.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

 

Stan & Ollie

 

Directed by:
Jon S. Baird

Screenplay by:
Jeff Pope

Starring:
Steve Coogan
John C. Reilly
Shirley Henderson
Nina Arianda
Rufus Jones
Danny Huston

97 min.

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

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

Let the sunshine in (Un beau soleil intérieur)

What is Let the sunshine in suppose to be about? Are we to take this representation of French relations as real? Or as a satire? Director Claire Denis seems to be having a great time with this film. Juliette Binoche plays Isabelle, a painter with a mess of a love life. We first see her with a banker (Xavier Beauvois). A terrible human being who treats people as if he owns them. Isabelle seems at first happy even though he’s unable to sexually satisfy her. She eventually leaves him, but throughout the film the banker stalks Isabelle. Then she meets an actor (Nicolas Duvauchelle). He is hesitant to start a relationship with her, but once he has, he admits that he had more fun “before”. He liked everything that went on “before” the relationship, so let’s do it again. All these people, including Isabelle, talk non-stop. It’s like I was watching a Eric Rohmer film (oh no!) or Jacques Doyon (more fun), except that Let the sunshine is funnier and less annoying. It’s as if Denis was winking at me, “It’s only a joke!”. But there’s more to it than that. Isabelle’s male friends lecturing her on what she should do, how she should feel. Isabelle dating to the point of exhaustion, or being in tears because she can’t find a man. I think it’s a cartoon on French misogyny. Through it all there is the amazing Binoche. I don’t think I’ve ever liked her as much as I do here. She’s cutting and precise. And at the end (during the end credits no less) Gérard Depardieu joins her. It’s a softer Depardieu, and with Binoche, it is pure magic.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

 

Let the sunshine in (Un beau soleil intérieur)

 

Directed by:
Claire Denis

Screenplay by:
Christine Angot
Claire Denis
Based on Fragments d’un discours amoureux
by Roland Barthes

Starring:
Juliette Binoche
Xavier Beauvois
Josiane Balasko
Philippe Katerine
Gérard Depardieu

96 min.

In French with English subtitles

The seagull

This excellent film adaptation of Anton Chekhov’s 1895 classic play seems to have everything right. Screenwriter Stephen Karam has done a great job by opening the play a bit, but has kept the story and the motivations (from what I can tell) pretty much the same. The film stars Annette Bening as Irina Arkadina, an aging actress spending the summer at her brother’s beautiful Russian country estate. She’s accompanied by her lover, well-known playwright Boris Trigorin (Corey Stoll), and her troubled son, Konstantin (Billy Howle). There are other characters with them and they all seem to have one thing in common: unrequited love. There is Masha (Elisabeth Moss), daughter of the estate manager, who is obsessed with Konstantin. But Konstantin is secretly in love with Nina (Saoirse Ronan), a young neighbour who dreams of becoming an actress. Konstantin is upset at his mother because she mocked one of his plays. He also dislikes Boris and is resentful of his talent. It gets worse when Boris attempts to seduce an all too willing Nina. It may be impossible for modern audiences to understand this community of 19th century over-the-top dramatic actresses of artists and romantic/suicidal youths, but if there is one cast that can do it, this is the one. Bening in particular understands the bigger than life persona and never misses a chance to strike a pose. She’s grand. A refreshing aspect of this film is that the mostly American cast did not feel the need to speak with an accent. Too many times I’ve seen actors absurdly attempting to take a Russian accent or a British accent. To my ear, everyone spoke a very good English without any accents. Director Michael Mayer keeps it all snappy and frothy. Very enjoyable.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

The seagull

 

Directed by:
Michael Mayer

Screenplay by:
Stephen Karam
Based on the play by Anton Chekhov

Starring:
Saoirse Ronan
Annette Bening
Corey Stoll
Billy Howle
Elisabeth Moss
Brian Dennehy
Mare Winningham
Jon Tenney

98 min.

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.

Wonder wheel

Wonder wheel, the new Woody Allen film is not a comedy but a melodrama. “I relish melodrama and larger-than-life characters,” says Mickey (Justin Timberlake) speaking to the camera. Mickey is a Coney Island lifeguard and wannabe playwright, and this type of naration is often used in theatre. This is the 1950s, and the film centres on Ginny (Kate Winslet), a clam-bar waitress and wannabe actress. She lives with her husband Humpty (Jim Belushi), a carousel operator, and her young son Richie (Jack Gore), an incorrigible pyromaniac. Their apartment next to the boardwalk is surrounded by the noise of the amusement park and the shooting games. The film starts as Humpty’s estranged daughter Caroline (Juno Temple) comes to seek refuge from her mobster husband. Initially Humpty refuses to get involved because he’s afraid the mobster will be looking for her. But her allows her to stay with them. Meanwhile, Ginny has an affair with Mickey the lifeguard, who is a few years younger than she is. That gives Ginny a little break from the gloom of life at the apartment where Ginny and Humpty are always fighting and Richie gets in trouble again with another fire he has started. With Mickey, Ginny can dream to be an actress again, and Ginny is happy. That is untill Mickey meets Caroline and he falls for her. Although this is an original screenplay by Woody Allen, it feels like a play, either adapted from another source or from an unproduced Woody Allen play. A big chunk of the action is stagey and takes place inside the apartment. But even when it does not, the screenplay has a series of speeches and monologues that seems like it was written for the stage. It may have been deliberate. Look at it this way: Ginny played on stage when she was younger, and Mickey, who wants to be a playwright, reads Shakespeare, quotes Eugene O’Neill (Wonder wheel might have been an O’Neill play, or a Tennessee Williams, or an Edward Albee). The characters in Wonder wheel are angry people, clinging on to their unattainable dreams. They are surrounded by a deafening dysfunctional noise. Wonder wheel is well directed by Allen with an acute sense of doom. But there is a lack of focus in the writing. There is enough drama and material for several films. Winslet is unforgettably tense in portraying Ginny’s increasingly hysterical neuroses. And legendary cinematographer Vittorio Storaro’s brilliant use of colors is one of the great joy of this Woody Allen film.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

 

Wonder wheel

Directed by:
Woody Allen

Screenplay by:
Woody Allen

Starring:
Kate Winslet
Justin Timberlake
Juno Temple
Jim Belushi

101 min.

Rated 14A

Bombshell: The Hedy Lamarr story

On the surface Hedy Lamarr’s career as an actress is not very impressive. The Austrian-born film actress is mostly known for her nudity and a close-up of Lamarr (then Hedy Kiesler) feigning orgasm in the scandalous 1933 erotic film Ecstasy. Lamarr arrived in Hollywood in 1938 after MGM’s Louis B. Mayer signed her up. The publicity claimed she was “the world’s most beautiful woman”. And they might have been right. Her first Hollywood film was Algiers opposite Charles Boyer. Followed a series of increasingly forgettable films. So why a documentary about Hedy Lamarr? One thing that is not generally known is that Lamarr was also an amateur inventor. In 1942, Lamarr and her friend composer George Antheil designed a device that could help the war effort. Lamarr knew that radio-controlled torpedoes could easily be jammed, and the torpedoes diverted. With their “frequency hopping” device, Lamarr and Antheil could change the radio frequencies and help the torpedoes hit their targets. At the time the Frequency-hopping spread spectrum was rejected by the US Navy, but in 1962, during the Cuban missile crisis, updated versions of their design appeared on Navy ships. It’s amazing to learn that Lamarr and Antheil’s work led to the development of GPS, Bluetooth, and Wi-Fi. Lamarr made her last film in 1958, was arrested for shoplifting twice, she became addicted to pills and destroyed her beauty with too many plastic surgery. After 6 marriages, she retired to Miami Beach, Florida in 1981 and became a recluse. Today, there are the films of course and her work as an inventor has been posthumously recognized.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

Bombshell: The Hedy Lamarr story

 

Directed by:
Alexandra Dean

Screenplay by:
Alexandra Dean

90 min.

Rated Parental Guidance