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

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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.

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.

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

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 leisure seeker

At the last Academy Awards, host Jimmy Kimmel offered a Jet Ski to the Oscars winner who gave the shortest acceptance speech. Presenting the Jet Ski like a The price is right model, and obviously having the most fun of the evening, was Dame Helen Mirren. And that’s not all! At the end of the Oscar-cast the Jet Ski was rolled on the stage with the winner (Phantom thread costume designer Mark Bridges) and Dame Helen riding on the Jet Ski. In The leisure seeker Mirren co-stars with Canadian icon Donald Sutherland (their last film together was Bethune: The making of a hero in 1990). They play Ella and John Spencer, an elderly couple (Mirren is 72, Sutherland 82) who decide to run away for a last road trip in their motor home, baptized “The leisure seeker”. They are going across America. They did that without telling their children, Will and Jane (Christian McKay and Janel Moloney). The children are understandably worried since Ella suffers from what we guess is cancer and John has Alzheimer. But Ella and John don’t look too bothered by anything. They’re having a great time. While driving the motor home John, a retired English teacher, constant reciting of Hemingway annoys Ella. Sometimes they park the motor home at camping sites, and at night Ella shows John slides of old family photos. He sometimes remembers, and sometimes not. Often other campers gathers behind them to watch the slides. It’s our collective memories, one’s family being like all families. This is America and when they get robbed, Ella knows how to defend herself. And John goes to a Donald Trump rally. And he likes it. Hey! this a road movie, and like all such films they could be painted by numbers. That is if it wasn’t for the two stars. At first Sutherland plays John as a quiet, withdrawn. And he starts talking, and boy does he talk. Layers upon layers the character becomes more complex. Helen Mirren has played Queens and Shakespearean tragedies, but I’ve never seen her play someone like Ella Spencer. A thick southern accented American with a gun, hopping on a motorbike, holding on to her wig and swearing all the way. This is funny, but also sad. People should not forget that this is a film about two people in love. Their last days, as they say, are numbered. So bring your handkerchief.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

The leisure seeker

 

Directed by:
Paolo Virzi

Screenplay by:
Paolo Virzì
Francesca Archibugi
Francesca Piccolo
Stephen Amidon
Based on the novel by Michael Zadoorian

Starring:
Donald Sutherland
Dame Helen Mirren
Christian McKay
Janel Maloney
Dana Ivey

112 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.

Au revoir là-haut (See you up there)

Albert Dupontel’s explosive adaptation of Pierre Lemaitre’s Goncourt-winning novel makes you think you are either watching a film by Jean-Pierre Jeunet (Delicatessen, The city of lost children, Amélie, and most blatantly A very long engagement) or reading a comic book (AKA graphic novels). The film’s early scenes are a good cue of we are to expect later. In the World War I trenches, we meet Albert Maillard (Albert Dupontel) and Édouard Péricourt (Nahuel Pérez Biscayart). The sadistic and murderous Lieutenant Pradelle (Laurent Lafitte) orders an assault and sends his soldiers to battle. What follows is one of most beautifully choreographed war battle. Maillard almost dies but is saved by Péricourt, just before he is hit himself by an explosion. At the hospital, with Maillard at his bedside, Péricourt discovers that he has a gaping hole where his mouth used to be. Unable to sustain the pain and wanting to escape, Péricourt asks his friend to get him some morphine. Maillard steals the morphine anywhere he can. Péricourt is an artist who was disowned be his rich father (the always marvelous Niels Arestrup). He pretends to be dead and spends his days creating a series of colorful and campy masks to hide his disfigurement. To make money Maillard and Péricourt plan to sell phony war monuments to honour the dead soldiers. Meanwhile, Lieutenant Pradelle is back and he is as mean as ever. This is a spectacular film with excellent production values. Nahuel Pérez Biscayart spends most of the film behind masks with his voice only coming in growls and grunts. This is impressive mime acting. Au revoir là-haut is not to be taken too seriously and is a lot of fun to watch.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

Au revoir là-haut (See you up there)

 

Directed by:
Albert Dupontel

Screenplay by:
Albert Dupontel and Pierre Lemaitre
Based on the novel by Lemaitre

Starring:
Albert Dupontel
Nahuel Pérez Biscayart
Laurent Lafitte
Niels Arestrup
Heloïse Balster
Mélanie Thierry
Émilie Dequenne

117 min.

In French with English subtitles

Call me by your name

And what I’m trying to say isn’t really new
It’s just the things that happen to me
When I’m reminded of you

Is it okay if I call you mine? from the film Fame (1980), music and lyrics by Paul McCrane

Plaisir d’amour ne dure qu’un moment,
Chagrin d’amour dure toute la vie.

Plaisir d’amour (1784), music by Jean-Paul-Égide Martini, lyrics by Jean-Pierre Claris de Florian

Awards season is near and one of the films that has been on everyone’s lips is Luca Guadagnino’s Call me by your name. Some people are hoping that Call me by your name is this year’s Moonlight (the film that was eventually named Best picture at the last Oscar cast following a screw up with the envelopes). Moonlight was the first LGBTQ themed film to ever win Best picture, and there’s talk of a repeat in 2017. But will it win? In Call me by your name, Elio Perlman (Timothée Chalamet), a 17-year-old Italian-American, lives in the Italian countryside with his parents. We are in the summer of 1983 and Elio’s father (Michael Stuhlbarg), a professor of archaeology, has hired an American student to help him. Oliver (Armie Hammer), a handsome a 24-year-old man with golden hair, comes to stay with them at their beautiful villa in Lombardy. Oliver will sleep in Elio’s room. Although Elio spends some time with his girlfriend Marzia (Esther Garrel) and Oliver is seeing a local girl, it soon becomes clear that the young men are attracted to each other. It’s done in small details. When Oliver suddenly touches Elio’s shoulder during a ball game, the teenager’s reaction is to quickly withdraw. But when they are alone, it is Elio’s turn to touch, kiss and grab, and Oliver to hold back. They are both conscious and wary of their feelings. Oliver is ambiguous. He enjoys the game of seduction and the attention, but is also aware of the danger. But what should happen, happens. Call me by your name is actually not as explicit as screenwriter James Ivory originally conceived it. A lot of nudity (read full frontal) was removed at the request of the actors. And then there is a scene of Elio in bed with a peach (yeah, a peach!). There was Marlon Brando and butter in Last tango in Paris, now there is Timothée Chalamet and a peach in Call me by your name. Guadagnino is such an original filmmaker. In Call me by your name he is more concerned with the small gestures, the furtive glances and the tearful face than the long dialogue scenes that will spell everything out for the moviegoers. The way the part is written, it would be almost impossible to play Elio. There are too many things for a young actor to do, too many emotions at once. But Chalamet hits every nails with brilliance make it seems easy, no sweat, and at the end the audience feels emotionally drained. Armie Hammer is Chalamet’s perfect partner, accompanying him, and us in this intense love story. Hammer, like Chalamet, gives a most multi-layered performance. And as Elio’s dad Michael Stuhlbarg delivers a heartfelt speech to help his son cope with his sorrow. The beauty of the Italian landscapes is casually photographed by Sayombhu Mukdeeprom as we go along for a bike ride or for a swim in a river. He knows that however beautiful it is, there is nothing more beautiful than two young lovers.

And the Oscar went to… The safest bet for Call me by your name was James Ivory for his adapted screenplay. It was the film’s only Oscar. At 89, Ivory became the oldest-ever Oscar winner. One of many LGBTQ winners that evening, Ivory recalled his late partner Ismail Merchant (d. 2005).

Rémi-Serge Gratton

 

Call me by your name

 

Directed by:
Luca Guadagnino

Screenplay by:
James Ivory
Based on the novel by André Aciman

Starring:
Timothée Chalamet
Armie Hammer
Michael Stuhlbarg
Amira Casar

132 min.

Rated 14A

In English, French and Italian with English subtitles.

Wonderstruck

I was looking forward to see Wonderstruck, the new Todd Haynes film. The last film we saw from him was Carol, and he also directed Far from heaven. Wonderstruck is set in 1977, and it tells the story of a young boy named Ben (Oakes Fegley) shortly after his mom ( if you blink you might miss Michelle Williams) has died in a car crash. Ben, who never knew who his dad was, finds what he thinks are relevant information. But before Ben can do anything, he has an accident that makes him deaf. He then runs away from his guardians in Minnesota and goes to New York in search for his father. Cut to Hoboken, New Jersey in 1927. Rose (Millicent Simmonds), , a young deaf girl who runs away from her father to go Manhattan. Rose is searching for her favorite silent film actress (Julianne Moore who plays two characters). In 77, Ben meets Jamie (Jaden Michael), another boy who will help Ben find the answers he needs. While the Rose/1927 part of film was shot in black and white and is silent, the Ben/1977 are a full color reconstruction of 1977. You think “How did they do that?”. There are scenes in New York where you can see down a long street, and every car, every costume, the way people walk and smoke is like looking at a photo or a documentary film. I have no way of knowing if special effects were used. Brilliant cinematographer Edward Lachman has matched the style and colors of American cinema of the 1970s. It is impressive.  But the 1927 scenes are a lot less believable. The film is helped greatly by Carter Burwell’s expressive score. I was initially put off by Wonderstruck‘s lack of focus and its inconsistency. Some bit of dialogue and turn of events, at least in the early scenes, seemed to be a bit corny. But ultimately, I was charmed by the whole film because of its innocence and naiveté. I think all, pre-teens, teens and adults, will enjoy it.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

 

Wonderstruck

 

Directed by:
Todd Haynes

Screenplay by:
Brian Selznick
Based on his own novel

Starring:
Millicent Simmonds
Oakes Fegley
Julianne Moore
MIchelle Williams

117 min.

Rated Parental Guidance