I Got It at the Library: NOSTALGIA

Screenwriter Alex Ross Perry may have noticed some friends packing up stuff for their late parents. Perhaps  he was faced with the onerous task himself. He may have thought, Now there’s a good subject for a film.

Trouble was, nobody wanted to see it.

At least that’s what I gathered from the box office and reviews (Critics gave Nostalgia a rating of 35% on the Rotten Tomatoes.com website and the audience “reviewers” weren’t too enthused either. Ouch!) Okay, it does drag a little.

A pensioner in his 80s (Bruce Dern),  surrounded by objects collected over the years tells an insurance agent (John Ortiz) he doesn’t care about any of it. This leads to another story about a widow (the great Ellen Burstyn) devastated by the loss of her house. She says to the agent, What is the first thing you grab when your house is burning. In her case the only thing she managed to save was a treasured possession that belonged to her late husband

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The sometimes uncomfortable but essential “NOSTALGIA”

Perhaps the most sobering part of the film features Jon Hamm and the great Catherine Keener as a brother and sister duo who return to the house they grew up in to clean up after their parents who have moved to Florida. Catherine’s daughter (Annaliese Basso), your typical millennial i.e. early 20s, cannot relate since she never spent any time in the house and, furthermore, has no use for her grandfather’s vinyl albums. (“Whatever I want, I can download.”)

Basically, the theme of the film is the sentimental attachments we form to objects collected over a lifetime and what to do with them at a critical juncture. (For millennials, the film makes the point that everything of value is on phones and/or on laptops and if those objects are destroyed, there are no keepsakes to remember them by.)

Despite the negative feedback from various sources, I would recommend the film as required viewing for all boomers of a certain age. (In North America we call it “downsizing”. Europeans are more pragmatic. They refer to the process as “Swedish death cleaning.”)

For those to whom the film applies (I plead guilty) the film’s subject matter can make for  uncomfortable viewing. In fact, I had to watch it in installments because I related so deeply to the film’s subject matter.

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John Woo’s Manhunt: Not a Killer Film

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“Manhunt” (currently streaming on Netflix) plays like a remake of “Hard-Boiled” (with Chinese actor Hanyu Zhang and Japan’s Masaharu Fukuyama as reluctant team-mates, replacing Chow Yun-Fat and Tony Leung) – with a few of Mr. Woo’s other, better films from his ’90s heyday thrown in for good measure. (Yes, there are white doves , one of Mr. Woo’s trademarks, but no Chow Yun-Fat this time around). Perhaps reviving “Hard-Boiled”  is not as cynical as it may seem. According to various sources, a remake of Mr. Woo’s Asian action classic “The Killer” is in the works (by film-maker Woo, of course)

The alleged (and only barely coherent) plot seems to be just an excuse to string together a series of action set pieces (Mr. Woo’s specialty) including a galvanizing speedboat chase (hmm! think I saw something like that in a Bond picture). The dialogue careens crazily (and for no apparent reason) between English and what I can only assume is Chinese and Japanese. (I am informed that most Asian exports utilize this practice but I still found it distracting. Thank NF for subtitles!)

Back in the Nineties Mr. Woo had highly paid Hollywood heroes like John Travolta and Nicolas Cage working for him and Quentin Tarantino raving about his skillz as an action auteur.

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Then came “Windtalkers” and “Paycheck” and suddenly John Woo didn’t look so golden.

Oh well, there was always the burgeoning Asian market. But after several period dramas (the Red Cliff and The Crossing series) John Woo is back in America lensing action sequences that defy gravity and heroes that never seem to perish despite multiple wounds.

Critics with fond memories of the original “The Killer”and “A Better Tomorrow” and/or Hollywood hits like 1996’s “”Face/Off “and 1997’s “Broken Arrow” give this film a passing grade (67%) but the audience (14%) was less than enchanted.

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And in this case I’d have to agree with the audience. Although, considering where Mr. Travolta and Mr. Cage’s careers have migrated in the meantime, perhaps a re-teaming with John Woo may be a good idea for all three.

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John Woo

Straight Out of Norway: OSLO,AUGUST 31st

Oslo

This Norwegian import scored high with critics AND audiences on the ubiquitous Rotten Tomatoes rating scale. With a 98% critical approval (out of 61 critics surveyed) and an 82% audience approval rating, I must be missing something. The only audience posting that matched my reaction to this film was from one David L. who wrote: The main character’s compelling enough that I saw the movie all the way through but really, it was about a day in the life of an addict & the pains he caused others because of his addiction, and that’s about it (and I had to hunt for that).

In my humble opinion Norwegian film-maker Joachim Trier deserves credit for attempting to show the causes that lead Anders (Anders Danielson Lie) into a dark, spiralling drug addiction by showing one day in his bleak, existential. lonely existence. Perhaps if I could relate to his condition or the reasons for it, I might have able to find the film “compelling” , “harrowing”, “engrossing”, “gripping” or any of the other adjectives used to describe it in reviews.

As it is, I was distinctly underwhelmed by the film. My loss?

 

I Signed It Out at the Library: SLEEPLESS

Recently I read a glowing article about actor/musician Jamie Foxx in the paper. (Yes, I still read newspapers in the coffeeshop.) The article mentioned a Grammy-nominated album, a new movie and even a game show he is hosting. 

But nowhere does it mention a movie called Sleepless. That’s not surprising. 

Frankly, I hadn’t even heard of the movie until I spotted it in the DVD section of the library.

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Adapted from a French thriller called Nuit Blanche by Andrea Berloff (one of the Oscar-winning screenwriters of Straight Outta Compton), Sleepless features Jamie as Vincent Downs, a Las Vegas cop with connections.(I refer to the performer by his first name because calling him Mr. Foxx sounds like an X-rated version of a Wes Anderson film). 

He and his partner (played by rap star T.I.) are in possession of  cocaine originally belonging to club owner/crook Stanley Rubino (played by an almost unrecognizable Dermot Mulroney – hey, I said almost unrecognizable.) Mr. Rubino is under pressure to recover the shipment since he promised to sell the drugs to a mobster named Novak (Scoot McNairy, who usually plays a good guy, so he is taking liberal advantage of the opportunity to play an especially nasty villain.)

With so much on the line (no pun intended) Mr. Rubino kidnaps Jamie’s, I mean, Vincent’s teen-age son (Octavius J. Johnson) to make sure that Vincent returns his cocaine. Plucky young Internal Affairs officer Jennifer Bryant (Michelle Monaghan) is convinced Jamie’s character is dirty and is determined to get the goods on him. Meanwhile, Vincent’s ex (Gabrielle Union) keeps phoning from the hospital, where she works as a nurse, wondering where Junior is, because Jamie, I mean Vincent, doesn’t want to admit her son has been kidnapped.

The critical collective at the rottentomatoes.com gave this movie a wan 2i%. Audience “reviewers” scored it slightly higher at 36%. Obviously, they were not impressed either.

I blush to admit I actually liked the first 2/3 of the movie. Swiss/German director Baram bo Odar keeps putting the screws on our anti-hero to see which way he’ll jump. It reminded me of the final scenes of (the much better rated) 1995 flick Get Shorty when all the pieces of Elmore Leonard’s jigsaw puzzle plot start to come together. 

Unfortunately, something happens in Sleepless and I blame suits-in-the-editing-room or one of the performers using their clout to change the screenplay because at some point, this wannabe thriller falls as flat as a gateau in the oven. (I can almost hear the conversation now,”That may be what they do in Europe, Bo, but in America, audiences want action – y’know, fistfights, car chases, lots of guns …. “)

Y’think movie producers would learn something after the box office fails of American remakes of European hits like The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and Let The Right One In or even the U.K. TV hit Broadchurch but judging from the fate of this pic apparently not.

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I Got it at the Library: “Certain Women”

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Film-maker/Professor Kelly Reichardt

Kelly Reichardt refuses to be rushed.

But you already know that if you have seen Wendy and Lucy and Meek’s Cut-Off. If you are a newcomer to her highly personal and (some might say) idiosyncratic art Certain Women may not be the best introduction. See the two films above first and then see Certain Women and you should feel right at home.

You may have read about the slow food movement. Well, Reichardt’s films are what has been called “slow cinema”. And she determines the pace. (She has edited, written and directed all of the films listed above.)

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Based on a series of short stories by Montana author Maile Meloy (sister of Colin Meloy of The Decemberists, by the way) Certain Women offers low key character studies of  four women (Michelle Williams, Kristen Stewart, Laura Dern and Lily Gladstone), their humdrum existences,  frustrations and small victories. 

Reichardt’s films, like the slow food movement perhaps, are an acquired taste. The film recived a 92% per cent critical approval on the rottentomatoes.com site but fared less successfully among the audience reviewers (RT Audience Critic Phillip Price wrote in part “…  There is a fine line between being understated and simply being uninteresting …. “

But as Ms. Reichardt told Nigel Smith of “theguardian.com”‘:  “It all just seems everything is getting faster. Faster, faster, faster – we all want things faster. I guess there is a part of me that likes the pull against that … 

Certain - poster

 

A Dark Twist on an Old Story? Not Even Close

Okay, I know how I started writing about a 2010 movie based on a 2001 novel but I am not sure why I am posting an entry in my blog about them.

I guess it all started when I watched the Brit TV series based on the Jack Taylor novels by Irish writer Ken Bruen (an appreciation of Mr. Bruen’s unique – to me – prose style appears elsewhere in this blog.)

London - book

I noticed a second hand copy of London Boulevard at a book sale and since I had become an aficionado of Mr. Bruen’s works I picked it up. Okay, it wasn’t a Jack Taylor novel but the protagonist, a wary, volatile ex-con named Mitchell, his run-ins with former criminal associates, his relationship with mentally unstable sister, Briony, his reluctant affair with the aging but still alluring  reclusive actress Lillian Palmer and her enigmatic butler, Jordan. held my attention.

Then I became aware of a movie adapted from the novel.  Since it was written by William Monahan, the Oscar-winning screenwriter who adapted the Asian box office hit Infernal Affairs for the Martin Scorsese-directed North American cinematic success The Departed (one of my favorite films) I had high hopes when the acclaimed screenwriter chose London Boulevard as his directorial debut. 

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Imagine my surprise when I looked closer at the back of the DVD dust cover and saw that Colin Farrell and Keira Knightley had been cast in leading roles. While reading the novel I kept picturing Liam Neeson and Helen Mirren or Charlotte Rampling in the roles. (On the other hand, the casting of Anna Friel as Briony and Ray Winstone as Mitchell’s criminal nemesis, Gant, was spot-on.)

I understand the need to attract “name” stars to secure investors. However, the casting – and rewriting – completely destroys Mr. Bruen’s original intent: to write a British version of Sunset Boulevard, or, as it says on the front cover of the novel, “a dark twist on a classic story.” Imagine a version geared to a youthful demographic directed by Zack Snyder and starring, say, Scarlett Johansson as Ms. Palmer (renamed “Lily”) and one of the Hemsworth boys as Mitchell (MC Mitch?)  

Mr. Monahan’s second attempt at directing, the dismal Mojave. didn’t fare much better (24% Audience Rating). Perhaps Peter Howell of Toronto’s Globe & Mail (quoted on RT) says it best:  “Writer/director William Monahan won an Oscar for penning The Departed and he obviously needs the discipline Martin Scorsese brought to that picture.”

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“Black Pond” Can Be An Eccentric Charmer But Be Warned- It’s “Intensely English”

Black Pond may be one of the polarizing films of this or any other year.

Peter Bradshaw of The Guardian  calls it: ” …  really good: haunting, melancholy and strange.”

Mary F., one of the Audience reviewers at rottentomatoes.com, says Black Pond  is “Possibly the worst film I’ve ever watched.” 

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Tom Kingsley (left) and Will Sharpe(right) are the BAFTA-nominated team behind Black Pond. They won the Evening Standard Award for Best Newcomers and last year were named two of Variety magazine’s Top 10 European Directors to Watch.

Will Sharpe co-directed and co-edited Black Pond with music video vet Tom Kingsley. The duo shared a BAFTA nomination with producer Sarah Brocklehurst, in 2012,  for Outstanding Debut by a British Writer, Director or Producer.  (BAFTA stands for British Academy of Film & Television Arts and is widely regarded as the U.K. equivalent of an Oscar). 

Briefly, the film is about an odd, dysfunctional family who befriend a sad, eccentric loner, Blake (Colin Hurley) with an unexpected result.

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After the “unexpected result” (no spoilers here!) the Brit tabloids label them “a family of killers” and worse. Even though they have not killed (or even hurt) anyone. Chris Langham (who plays the father, Tom Thompson), knows about the power of the press from firsthand experience. His career in his native Britain came to a screeching halt after being booked (and serving some jail time) on rather unsavory charges.(Langham claims he was researching a role.) Obviously, there is  real-life irony in the way Langham as Tom says “Obviously I lost my job because of the publicity.”

Amanda Hadingue, who plays Sophie, the mother of the family, is a wannabe poetess with a thing for  John Clare. (If English poet  John Clare is unfamiliar to North American readers, don’t feel bad. I had to look him up on Wikipedia, too.) It seems that Tom is unwittingly dim about his wife’s avocation. (“You want to throw my poems in the recycling!” Sophie exclaims.)

Anna O’Grady (Katie) and Helen Cripps (Jess) are cast as the two feuding sisters of the family. (“Katie has a thing for the wounded … Jess has a thing for being wounded,” Mom explains to Blake.) Ms. Cripps wears a perpetually bemused expression through much of the film  (I get the feeling Jess has grown up with that expression on her face, surrounded by the weirdness of her family and, well,  life , in general, which can be fairly strange by itself.)

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Helen Cripps in Black Pond

 The film is a mix of bone-dry and (often) pitch black wit, almost hallucinatory animation, dream sequences and profound philosophizing (“Very deep. Very deep indeed” says one of the characters admiringly.) The humor is very dry. So dry that it may leave some American viewers parched. It is, after all, a film that is, to quote one Brit paper, “intensely English”. Fortunately, I watch a lot of British shows on Netflix and/or PBS but even so I had to watch this eccentric low budget import twice (okay, I don’t have a life) to fully appreciate its quirky charms.

 A three-legged canine named Bonzo plays the family’s three-legged dog, Boy. (Talk about Method acting. Of course, what Bonzo really wants to do is write and direct.) And why is the dog called Boy? (“When I first brought him home, I said,’Here, boy’ and he responded right away,” explains Tom.)

Sharpe (who wrote the screenplay) plays Tim Tanaka, a friend of the family. (“I think he’s just a bloke with too much time on his hands,” says Tom.) British television personality Simon Amstell plays a quack psychiatrist (“I’m not qualified but who are you?,” he states cheerfully in an online ad, ” Treatments are free. My parents are dead.”)

The cast delivers their lines with poker-faced perfection, some of it in ” Office”-style interviews, supposedly filmed after the family’s brush with the law. ( “The Office” was originally a U.K. series before it was adapted for American audiences.)

The film received a limited theatrical release and is not for everyone but I was intrigued enough to keep an eye open for Sharpe and Kingsley’s sophomore release, 2016’s Darkest Universe.

Variety magazine says Black Pond could become a cult item.” Judging from the young hipsters on Tumblr, it is already a cult film.

One could wish that Sharpe and Kingsley’s third film would be more accessible for a global audience but I can hear the pair snickering at such a comment: “Accessible? We thought Black Pond was accessible. You should see some of the scenes we left out!”

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