Transit

In adapting Anna Seghers’s 1944 classic novel Transit visa, Christian Petzold has made the weird and misguided choice to film in modern-day France even though the action takes place shortly after the German occupation. Transit‘s main character is Georg (Franz Rogowski), a German exile who lives in Paris after the end of the Nazi occupation. He flees the Paris authorities to go to Marseilles where he hopes to be able to take a boat to America, “le Montréal”. To do that he has to assume the identity of Weidel, a dead writer. In Marseilles, Georg meets a community of Germans, who like him are awaiting permission to leave. There is also a beautiful woman searching for her lost husband. They keep seeing each other because she mistakenly thinks Georg is her husband. He later finds out she’s Weidel’s wife, Marie (Paula Beer). I really liked Phoenix, Petzold’s previous film. But Transit isn’t very exciting or good. It’s slow and boring and so confusing. We are asked to accept a bizarre convention where the characters live in the 1940s, but everything surrounding them is modern, 2018 cars or people wearing 2018 clothes. Whatever the reason (choice or lack of money), it looks cheap and I did not buy it at all. What a disappointment.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

Transit

 

Directed by:
Christian Petzold

Screenplay by:
Christian Petzold
Based on the novel Transit visa by Anna Seghers

Starring:
Franz Rogowski
Paula Beer
Godehard Giese
Maryam Zaree

101 min.

Rated Parental Guidance.

In German, French, and French Sign Language with English subtitles

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Bel Canto

Based on actual events (the1996 Lima hostage Crisis) but adapted from an Ann Patchett bestselling novel that has almost nothing left, if anything, from the real events, Bel Canto is a most amusing political drama/soap opera. Amusing to me at least. Among the international cast, the most well-known are Japan’s Ken Watanabe, France’s Christopher Lambert and American actress Julianne Moore. Watanabe plays Japanese industrialist businessman Katsumi Hosokawa who travels to a South American country to celebrate his own birthday. President Ochoa wants Hosokawa to open a plant, but has refused the invitation. Knowing very well that Hosokawa is an opera fan, the President has hired Hosokawa’s favorite singer, Roxanne Coss (Moore, with the singing voice of Renée Fleming) to give a concert in the President’s residence. But Hosokawa has no intention of doing business with the dictator and only come for the concert, and Coss only accepted because of the money they were willing to pay her. The concert has just begun in front of dignitaries, ambassadors and their wives, when a group guerrillas with machine guns crash the party. They keep everyone hostage and they demand that President Ochoa, who could not attend the concert because he was sick, release all political prisoners. At first the relations between the hostages and the guerrillas are tense, but over time, call it Stockholm syndrome if you want, things get friendlier. Hosokawa and the opera singer are obviously in love, so they start an affair. There is also attractions between Hosokawa’s translator (Ryô Kase) and a female guerrillas (María Mercedes Coroy). The film has a lot of credibility issues. Laughable scenes like the one where, after the government has cut off the water, Roxanne Coss goes on the balcony and sing so they’ll get the water back. And they do! Moments like this, and others even crazier, only work if you are good and innocent, or if, like me, you don’t take the film too seriously. Yes, there are beautiful things and marvelous music. Yes, Julianne Moore is very good, as always. I just think that the whole thing could easily have become a parody in the Airplane style. It ends in chaos and predictable tragedy. Predictable, but still disturbing. Your choice.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

Bel Canto

 

Directed by:
Paul Weitz

Starring:
Julianne Moore
Ken Watanabe
Sebastian Koch
Ryô Kase
María Mercedes Coroy
Christopher Lambert

Screenplay by:
Paul Weitz
Anthony Weintraub
Based on the novel by Ann Patchett

101 min.

Rated 14A

In English and some Spanish, French, and Japanese with English subtitles

The wife

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

Rémi-Serge Gratton

 

The wife

 

Directed by:
Björn Runge

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

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

101 min.

Rated 14A

The Sisters brothers

In the 1850s gold rush, Eli and Charlie Sisters have been hired as hitmen to kill gold prospector Hermann Warm. The two brothers (John C. Reilly and Joaquin Phoenix) travel from Oregon City to San Francisco killing a few people along the route. Meanwhile, Hermann Warm has met detective John Morris (Jake Gyllenhaal), who is looking for Eli and Charlie. Rather than becoming enemies, they work together to find the brothers. Warm has invented an intriguing liquid formula that makes it easy to see gold at night. But it is highly toxic. French film author Jacques Audiard has adapted the award-winning novel from Canadian writer Patrick deWitt. The Sisters brothers is a more introspective western than we usually see. But the character study seems to be more successful than then the confused labyrinthine plot. We don’t care where the characters are, what they’re doing there or why. And after a while, we don’t care. The only thing that keeps this affair together is John C. Reilly (also one of the producer), who manages to create a real person amid all the noise. Still Audiard is carefully holding back on the violence. He rarely shows the aftermath of the gunshot even when he shows us the pain. There is a particularly gross moment when a spider enters Eli’s mouth as he is sleeping. And I’m not talking about a small spider, not a tarantula, but still a big enough mother. The cinematography is by Benoît Debie. An inspired score by Alexandre Desplat has metallic rhythmic sounds that reverts back to Jerry Goldsmith or Ennio Morricone’s music for 60s and 70s westerns. It’s as if Desplat understood that it’s all about nostalgia. Like the Sisters brothers eventually seeking something familiar and warm.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

The Sisters brothers

 

Directed by:
Jacques Audiard

Screenplay by:
Jacques Audiard
Thomas Bidegain
Based on the novel by Patrick deWitt

Starring:
John C. Reilly
Joaquin Phoenix
Jake Gyllenhaal
Riz Ahmed
Rutger Hauer
Carol Kane

121 min.

Rated 14A

1945

August 1945 in a small Hungarian village. It’s a special day for town clerk István (Péter Rudolf), who’s marrying his son, pharmacy owner Arpad (Bence Tasnádi). But Arpad’s drug-addicted mother, Anna (Eszter Nagy-Kálózy), is not happy about the marriage. Anna knows that the bride, peasant girl Kisrózsi (Dóra Sztarenki), is only marrying her son for the money, and that Kisrózsi is still having sex with her ex-fiancé, handsome hunk Jancsi (Tamás Szabó Kimmel). In the middle of all this drama and the wedding preparations, István gets news from the train station master of the arrival of two Orthodox Jews. The whole village goes into a state of paranoid panic. There were Jewish families before the war, but the Nazi send them to the concentration camps. Some of the villagers were quick to grab their properties and everything else they could. The pharmacy doesn’t really belong to István or his son Arpad, it belonged to one of the Jewish family. And now everyone is afraid that the two men, who arrived by train with two wooden boxes, are survivors there to claim what was stolen from their families. A defying István seems ready to do anything to keep the things he says are his. Village drunk Bandi (Jozsef Szarvas) feels so guilty he wants to give everything back. Not so with his wife (Ági Szirtes) who starts hiding things in the basement. This is a very good film with a seldom told story about collective guilt and shame. Ferenc Török doesn’t make the mistake of political correctness, because political correctness did not exist in 1945. So the general discourse is anti-semitic. Török keeps up the tension and the suspense, as he keeps the villagers, and us, guessing. It was shot in beautiful black-and-white, and the ensemble cast of unknown is excellent.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

1945

 

Directed by:
Ferenc Török

Screenplay by:
Gábor T. Szántó
Ferenc Török
Adapyed from The homecoming, a short story by Gabor T. Szanto

Starring:
Péter Rudolf
Bence Tasnádi
Tamás Szabó Kimmel
Dóra Sztarenki
Eszter Nagy-Kálózy
Ági Szirtes
József Szarvas

91 min.

Rated 14A.

In Hungarian and some Russian with English subtitles

The children act

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

Rémi-Serge Gratton

The children act

 

Directed by:
Richard Eyre

Screenplay by:
Ian McEwan
Based on his own novel

Starring:
Emma Thompson
Fionn Whitehead
Stanley Tucci
Ben Chaplin

105 min.

Rated Parental Guidance

Juliet, Naked

Duncan claims to be Tucker Crowe’s No. 1 fan. He has set up a website about Crowe, with lengthy pretentious discussions analyzing every guitar plucks on Crowe’s only vinyl called “Juliet”, recorded thirty years ago. There are also many speculations on what happened to Tucker Crowe since then. Duncan Thomson (Chris O’Dowd) is British and lives in England with his girlfriend Annie Platt (Rose Byrne). For years Annie has silently endured Duncan’s obsession about Crowe. She keeps it in until one day she mistakenly opens a package addressed to Duncan. It’s a new demo CD from Crowe, another mainly acoustic affair called “Juliet, Naked”. She automatically knows that Duncan will be angry, not because she opened the package, but because it was from Crowe. Then she decides to listen to it. Duncan is livid. He calms down once he listens to it and falls in love with the new album. But Annie hates it. After reading Duncan’s piece on the new CD on his Crowe website, she decides to post her own dislike of “Juliet, Naked”, ripping apart Duncan ‘s corny article. Duncan is angry and he starts looking elsewhere for support. He finds it in the arm of another woman. As a result of her post, Annie receives an email supporting her views from a man who claims to be Tucker Crowe. Annie believes it is Crowe, and without telling Duncan she starts corresponding with him.. Tucker Crowe (Ethan Hawke) lives in the US with his ex-wife. Actually he lives in the shed behind the house so he can be near to his young son Jackson (Azhy Robertson). His life is kind of mess. Besides Jackson, Crowe has several children from other relations, some he almost never sees, others he has never met. Through emails, Annie and Tucker develop a friendship where they share everything. When Duncan tells Annie he has been cheating on her, she kicks him out. When Lizzie (Ayoola Smart), one of Tucker’s daughter is about to give birth, he plans to come to England to be near her. Perfect moment for Annie and Tucker to finally meet. But upon arriving in England, Tucker suddenly feels sick. From the first scene with Chris O’Dowd perfect (during the whole film really) at parodying Duncan’s fan website. Juliet, Naked is an excellent romantic comedy. It takes a very funny look at fandom (with Duncan it should be called “fandoom”). Snappy dialogues delivered by a near perfect cast (Hawke and Byrne have very good chemistry, and young Azhy Robertson is a great find). A really charming film.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

Juliet, Naked

 

Directed by:
Jesse Peretz

Screenplay by:
Evgenia Peretz
Jim Taylor
Tamara Jenkins
Based on the novel by Nick Hornby

Starring:
Rose Byrne
Ethan Hawke
Chris O’Dowd
Azhy Robertson
Ayoola Smart
Lily Brazier

105 min.

Rated 14A

The bookshop

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

Rémi-Serge Gratton

The bookshop

 

Directed by:
Isabel Coixet

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

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

113 min.

Don’t worry, he won’t get far on foot

Gus Van Sant’s new film is a biopic of paraplegic, alcoholic, politically incorrect cartoonist John Callahan (Joaquin Phoenix). At 21, after a day of drinking with his new buddy Dexter (Jack Black), Callahan’s life is changed forever by an auto accident. The cruel irony is that Dexter (real name? don’t know), who was driving Callahan’s car and fell asleep at the wheel, comes out of the accident without a scratch. At the hospital Callahan has a hard time facing the news that he won’t walk again. The only thing that calms him is physiotherapist Annu. Rooney Mara is Annu, and the way Gus Van Sant films her (in close-up, surrounded by sunshine and pastel colors) she looks more like a dreamy angel than a physiotherapist. Once out of the hospital and in a wheelchair, Callahan resumes his drinking and his whining. Most of the time he’s in a state of self-pity because his mother gave him up for adoption, and he drinks. A lot. That’s until he goes to an AA meeting at age 27 and stops drinking. His sponsor is Donnie, a gay, AA’s 12 steps guru. With a beard, hippie-like long blond hair and having lost some weight, Jonah Hill gives the best and most surprising performance of his career. After sobering up, Callahan starts his career as a cartoonist. Some of his cartoons were called racist by some while others found them funny. He also made fun at the physically disabled, and sometimes himself, as can attest the title of this film (also the title of Callahan’s book). It’s not an entirely satisfying movie experience. The screenplay and Van Sant’s direction makes it impossible to follow. It is confusing because it goes back and forth in time. Is it before he joined AA or did he relapse? A scene where he is sober is followed by one where he is drunk without any clue for the audience. It’s a shame. But you can still enjoy the superior performances from Joaquin Phoenix, Jonah Hill, Rooney Mara and Jack Black. You could not find better casting.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

 

Don’t worry, he won’t get far on foot

 

Directed by:
Gus Van Sant

Screenplay by:
John Callahan
Gus Van Sant
Jack Gibson
William Andrew Eatman
Based on Callahan’s memoir

Starring:
Joaquin Phoenix
Jonah Hill
Rooney Mara
Jack Black

114 min.

Rated 14A

Leave no trace

Will (Ben Foster) and his daughter Tom (Thomasin McKenzie) live outdoors in a public park in Portland, Oregon. They’ve set up a camp under a tree with a small tarp covering their heads. They can either cook on a fire, when it’s not raining, or on a propane BBQ they have brought with them. This is their home. Tom is 13-year-old. They must be careful not to be seen, as it is illegal to live in a public park. Occasionally they have military drills as a practise in case they are discovered. Will is an army veteran, probably suffering from some form of PTSD. During his sleep he has nightmares, and he wakes with the sounds of helicopters ringing in his head. Then it happens. The cops find them. Authorities get involved. They are submitted to a series of stupid psychiatric tests with stupid questions. A social worker finds them a home where they can live. It’s on a farm where they grow Christmas trees. Will  works at the farm. But “civilization” is not Will’s thing. In a telling scene, he unplugs the TV set and puts it away in the closet. He rejects society and its values. So it’s not long before he decides that they have to leave. By that time Tom has made friends with a local boy who raises rabbits and started to get accustomed to school and a more regulated life. She reluctantly packs up and leaves with him. A series of accidents will make the journey back to wilderness difficult. Debra Granik’s assured direction is remarkable here. She does not need to over-dramatize. She only observes without judging. The characters are already infused with baggage that is so rich. These are people with very few words. There are no long speeches. Although it doesn’t sound like it, it makes it harder for actors to do. McKenzie and Foster have the added task of playing father and daughter, to create a bond out of thin air. I thought that Ben Foster has always been unappreciated, and I hope that he will finally get the acclaim that he deserves. His work here, as well as Granik’s and McKenzie’s should be applauded.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

 

Leave no trace

 

Directed by:
Debra Granik

Screenplay by:
Debra Granik
Anne Rosellini
Based on the novel My abandonment by Peter Rock

Starring:
Ben Foster
Thomasin McKenzie
Jeff Kober
Dale Dickey

109 min.

Rated Parental Guidance