movies


After having seen last week the 2016 “Frantz” I continued yesterday my ( cure with “The Double Lover” (or “L’amant double” in original) the latest film of the French director, a film that was present also in the 2017 competition at the Cannes festival. Both movies deal with issues of identity, truth and deception and how these can impact relationships between men and women. This is were similarities stop. There are many differences and almost all in favor of the 2016 film.

 

source http://www.imdb.com/title/tt6367558/

source http://www.imdb.com/title/tt6367558/

 

The story which is ‘freely’ inspired by a novel by Joyce Carol Oates (which has already originated a movie by starts as the story about a relationship between a psychoanalyst and his patient that turns into a strange and uneasy love affair. While the relation between shrink and patient needs to be based on trust and truth, in this case the contrary happens, as each of the two characters avoids fully sharing their feelings, hides things from the past, speaks half truths or plain lies. They seem that they cannot work as a couple on any plan. The bad start of the relation develops to worse and the odd things that happen on screen are complicated by having them told in a mix of genres – French art film with Paris and a museum of disturbing modern art as background, erotic thriller, horror and guilt in the Hitchcock and Polanski traditions. All these get together in a ‘bouillion’ that becomes less and less credible, up to the point that the story cannot be solved but by explaining that all was some kind of dementia delirium with very prosaic physiological roots.  What should have been a sophisticated game of mirrors becomes a multiplication of images by mirrors disposed in a chaotic manner. To make things worse, the ending makes the mistake of explaining too much in sordid details. Hard to believe that the film with this ending comes in the filmography of Ozon just after “Frantz” with the wonderful ambiguity of its open ending.

 

(video source September Film Distribution)

 

Acting is also problematic. Ozon’s choice of actors seems sometimes odd (not only here) because they are characters that do not feel well in their own skins. In this case he chose (his discovery in  “Young & Beautiful “) for a role that needs more expressiveness and fragility than what the actress delivered on screen. There is no chemistry between her and either of the two selves (or twin brothers) played by  . I will never complain about seeing again in a film and I apreciate Ozon’s creating in every film of his strong and interesting feminine characters that break the stereotypes, but her role or maybe roles (another odd double) seem to be wasted talent here.

The Double Lover” never reaches at cinematographic level its ambitions. The jury at Cannes 2017 deserves an award for not giving – despite the names of the director and the cast – any award to this movie.

 

A lot of film fans deplore or criticize ‘s latest choice of roles. They all seem to be focusing on action movies, with the 55 (!) years old actor cast in roles where the ration between fights, high-speed chases and use of advance weaponry  on one side and meaningful story and dialogs on the other is dangerously unbalanced in the favor of the first. His role in the 2014 ‘Edge of Tomorrow‘ apparently falls in the same category.  However, the film directed by  (of ‘The Bourne Identity’ and ‘Mr. & Mrs. Smith‘ glory) is much more than this. It is actually one of the smartest science-fiction films in the last few years.

 

source http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1631867

source http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1631867

 

Time looping is one of the most intriguing themes in science fiction, and has a huge number of variation and derived paradoxes. The authors of the script of this film have taken the idea and introduced it into a ‘War of the Worlds’ kind of film and actually cinematography and even the evil alien’s appearances look quite similar to the one in the films inspired by H. G. Wells classic novel. What is different is that the superiority of the alien race is not based only on physical abilities but on the capability of controlling and resetting time. Luckily, at least some of the humans will be contaminated and use the trick to fight the invasion. I will stop here in order to avoid spoiling too much, with the promise that there are many more surprises, and that the solution and ending combines action and fine sci-fi.

 

(video source Warner Bros. Pictures)

 

does what he best does (and likes it) in the last decade, with a good and fit companion to his deeds. Well-paced action combines with smart writing for a film that needs no excuses to be liked.

 

I have somehow missed ‘Now You See Me‘, a very entertaining movie directed by when it was released four years ago. Luckily, it’s one of those movies that do not lose their appeal that fast, and then it’s summer time, so the right time for fun and entertaining films. The only detail that seems overcome by time in this film is the usage of phones phones with geo-positioning systems.As smartphones took over the market, and applications as Google Maps became ubiquitous, the cops using keyboard based not-so-smart mobile phones seems to have happened twenty and not four years back. It’s kind of a lesson for film-makers which may find more and more difficult coping with the pace of progress of our smart gadgets. Maybe the sequel avoids this mistake.

 

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1670345

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1670345

 

Now You See Me‘ combines two genres – the big robbery and the magicians movies, with more emphasize on the later. ‘The closer you look, the less you see’ is the key saying of the film which tells the story of four magicians with different specializations brought together in a team that combines huge magician shows a la David Copperfield with bank robberies. They are supported by a finance tycoon (), followed by a former magician () whose pastime is exposing on TV the tricks and frauds of magicians, and have of course all the FBI and Interpol on their tracks. The roles of manipulators and manipulated, suspects and innocents change all the time, and as in a good magic show we are never sure what we exactly see on screen.

 

(video source Movieclips Trailers)

 

The story may have a few holes that cannot be filled even by magic, but the convention works well, and is well supported by the actors. Watching and is always a delight in this kind of roles that they enjoy playing in this epoch of their careers. The rest of the team does a good job as well, with special mentions for  and . ‘Now You See Me‘ is a film to enjoy, like a good show with magicians.

 

Frantz‘ is one of those films that follows you long after the screening is over. What I and maybe many other viewers of ‘s 2016 film  will remember years from now will be the silhouettes of the two principal heroes – the beautiful German young woman Anna (interpeted by ) whose lover, Frantz,  fell on the front two months before the end of the First World War and the out-of-world French young man Adrien Rivoire (actor ) who is also an ex-soldier, has met Anna’s lover some time in the past, and comes to put flowers on his empty grave and ease the grief of Anna and Frantz’s parents.  One may say that is a miscast, and maybe this is true, but he is a miscast not as an actor, but in the world his fate was to live in.

 

source http://www.imdb.com/title/tt5029608/

source http://www.imdb.com/title/tt5029608/

 

Frantz himself gives the name of the film, as all characters are tormented by his absence, his falling in the war makes him the victim, but actually everybody in this film is a victim of the absurdity of the war. The film succeeds to present in a moving manner how destinies are cut short by war, and how difficult are healing, forgetting, forgiving. It also asks questions about the capability of humans to cope with the horrors of the past – can they do it while facing the truth which is sometimes more cruel than their imagination allows? Or maybe lies are allowed when they can help healing or avoid reopening fatal wounds?

Ozon’s film also carries an anti-war message. The heroes belong to the two sides of a war that created devastation for both nations. One may have been victor, the other defeated, but both countries are in ruins, millions of lives were lost, the survivors continue to carry the scars of the war traumas but also the germs of hate that will be at the root of the next war. The symmetry of scenes and situations may seem demonstrative, but it’s good to remember that blood, enmity and mistrust divided Europe no so long ago.

 

(video source Moviefone)

 

The film makes use of black and white for the majority of the time, with colors inserted in some key moments, without necessarily marking the borders between reality and imagination, past and present, truth or fiction. It was a very good idea in my opinion to avoid the trap of a happy ending and to leave more ambiguity in place, with a mysterious lesser known painting of Manet handling to the viewers the key to what may have happened next. Questions marks are relevant for both past and future.

There are films based on graphic novels (comics books) heroes and action stories and the genre is flourishing making happy studios and fans of all ages. And there are the ‘Sin City’ films which are graphic novels on screens.  ‘Sin City: A Dame to Kill For‘ directed by (who also created the books that inspired them) and is only the second in this genre. I liked it. I will try to explain the reasons and the difference.

 

source http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0458481

source http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0458481

 

The first thing to notice with ‘Sin City 2′ (as for the first one almost one decade earlier) is that it does not pretend to be anything else that it is. It is a comics story which is directly designed for the big screen rather than for the paper support of the graphic novels. The story (there are actually three almost independent story threads) is simple and relies mostly on action. No psychological or character development is to be expected from its heroes, they are from the first time they appear on screen until the moment they die or the end of the movie (what comes first) ‘The Drunken Righteous’, ‘The Dangerous Vamp’, ‘The Corrupt Senator’,'The Nice Face Gambler’, etc. The actors either wear masks () or they are their own masks (, , , , , ). Most of them create their own characters as graphical novel heroes. The only one who holds some mystery and hides – at least for some time – her real intentions is the character played by . All seem to enjoy themselves greatly to be in the film.

 

(video source Movieclips Trailers)

 

All this concept is supported by a superb cinematographic solution which places the actors on sets that seem to be drawn in comics style and uses mostly black-and-white with touches of selected colors as in the mid 20th century comics books combined with the cinema masterpieces of ‘film noir’ from the same period. The execution is perfect, and the action scenes not only support the stories but also create moments of aesthetic wonder and fit perfectly in the atmosphere. The concept and the execution make of ‘Sin City: A Dame to Kill For‘ a rare combination of good entertainment and stylish cinema.

 

I fail to join the chorus of praise from critics and many film fans for Dunkirk. I came with big expectation to this film, not only because I read the critics, but also because is a director whose work I enjoy, who tries and succeeds to surprise in most of his films, in very different genres. This is why Dunkirk, his tentative in the WWII films genre slightly disappointed me. To be clear, it’s a good film on any scale. It’s just not the best on Nolan’s scale, IMO. I really hope that the race to the Academy Awards is not over (as some predict) and better films will show up in the race for the small statues.

 

source http://www.imdb.com/title/tt5013056/

source http://www.imdb.com/title/tt5013056/

 

I am lacking in this historical description the element of surprise and innovation that Nolan brought to films like MementoInception, The Prestige, or even Interstellar. What we get instead is an almost docu-drama approach to a historical event that is known well enough so that we need not too much background information and we can face the individual destinies of the heroes. I liked the fact that for most of the film Nolan and the authors of the script avoided the heroic or melodramatic approach and presented war as lived by the soldiers, a bloody chaos which found the young men unprepared not only from a military point of view but also from a personal perspective. War is not a collection of heroic deeds but also or mostly a fight for survival. The trap of melodrama is not completely avoided however, and a few scenes to the end seem to belong rather to another film. So does the character of the British navy commander played by – wasted talent. The other actors are less known and it’s better so, as most are supposed to be the anonymous soldiers who fought for their own lives, some of them with success, some with less luck. A special mention for the excellent musical and sound track which helps a lot the cinematography which is also impressive at many moments.

 

(video source Warner Bros. Pictures)

 

At the end of the movie, when some of the heroes make it alive to Britain, the film leaves the personal contexts of its heroes to refer to the political context of the day, which is for us now the historical context. The trains with the survivors just start to make their ways and the politicians already use the events to push ahead their agenda. Their is a gap between the mess that they just had survived, and the words that describe the facts in the newspapers and in the Parliament. It was a necessary gap, however. Big war stories are built of small personal stories, that sometimes include fear and mistakes. The evacuation at Dunkirk was one of the key moment of WWII. The avoided disaster on the beach at Dunkirk prepared the victory on the beaches of the Normandie in the summer of 1944. The saving of hundred of thousands of soldiers after the 1940 Allied defeat in Europe allowed for the men under arms to be spared the sufferings of being war prisoners,  allowed for regrouping of the forces, the defense of Britain and eventually the turn of fate and victory in the war. It was a key moment in the war. That was not enough to make of  Dunkirk a great movie.

Director has built a name of herself clearly distinct from the one of her illustrious father by describing the world of women, their fears and tragedies, their anxieties and ambiguities, their relation with the world of men and the results (in many cases tragic) of the clash of cultures between Venus and Mars. I expect any of her movies, wherever and whenever the story is set, to deal with these themes. The Beguiled is not exception to the rule, it even goes farther and digs deeper then her previous films.

 

source http://www.imdb.com/title/tt5592248

source http://www.imdb.com/title/tt5592248

 

The movie is based on a novel by Thomas Cullinan which was already brought to screen in 1971 by with a cast that included and However, it’s not a remake but rather a different interpretation of the story, told from the point of view of the community of women gathered in a school for Southern girls in Virginia by the end of the Civil War, who save the life of a wounded Yankee soldier they find in the wood near the premises of the school. The whole story builds around the mixed feelings of distrust and human compassion, desire and sexual awakening, social and cultural differences between the wounded soldier () on one side, and the school principal (), her assistant () and the other girls on the other side. That was time of war and that was a war that changed America, in which social and class taboos were broken. The characters came to revelations not only about the nature of the enemy but also and most of all about themselves.

 

(video source Focus Features)

 

I liked the way the story was told and the characters developed, with the exception of the character played by who is supposed to play a key role in the change of pace and perspective in the middle of the action, but offers few arguments excepting her age and appearance. All the other actors – , , and especially give fine performances. Dunst especially grows into a fine actor undertaking more complex roles. The story building is carefully supported by actors work, by the sets (the mansion that hosts the school, the woods around with the nature threatening to take over the building same as the realities of the war threaten the close universe of the girls school), the background sounds of the war. The characters keep a useful dose of mystery for themselves, none of them is a saint or a full devil. They are human in extreme conditions, war made them political enemies, nature made them enemies in the war of sexes, but they find out that the enemy is not what they believed – for the good and for the worse. This story of reprieved passion that turns into historic thriller and horror works well under Coppola’s screen direction. Do we still need to remind which of the Coppolas?

It’s not easy to make a good fiction movie about the Holocaust. The story was told many times from different perspectives, it has a well known ending and a definite set of tragic victims and of evil characters. Although the number of movies made annually in the genre does not seem to decrease, there were just a few in the last decades that succeeded to present a fresh perspective, a complex approach and a human dimension that turns the historic tragedy into artistic thrill: ‘Life Is Beautiful‘, ‘Schindler’s List‘, ‘The Pianist‘, ‘Defiance‘. Unfortunately director ‘s ‘The Zookeeper’s Wife‘ is far from this league.

 

source http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1730768

source http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1730768

 

The exemplary story of Jan and Antonina Zabinski is worth being told and was already described in books and history articles. Jan Zabinski was the director of the Warsaw Zoo which was famous in the years before WWII both as a place of entertainment as well as a place of research and preservation of rare species of animals. With the breaking of the war and the occupation of Poland, the zoo was closed, and some of the most precious animals transferred to Germany. Jan was a member of the Polish resistance and he engaged in a very risky activity of saving Jews out of the ghetto of Warsaw, hosting them in the zoo and in his home, procuring false identity papers and transferring them to safety. He did this at the high risk for his life and for the life of his family. Hundreds of people were saved by the couple. For their deeds Jan and Antonina were both awarded the titles of Righteous Among the Nations by the State of Israel.

 

(video source Focus Features)

 

Antonina Zabinska wrote a diary which was forgotten for many decades and American writer Diane Ackerman published a book based on it.  Unfortunately, the fiction film while using some of the factual material in the book does not build a story compelling enough to sustain the story, does not add anything, but just simplifies and romanticizes to some extent the characters without adding any motivational dimension. The best part of the film is the one describing the almost idyllic animals environment in the Zoo facing the brutal realities of the breaking of the war. The most cruel scenes about the ravages of war actually feature the dead animals, while the horrors of the life in ghetto are rather suggested. The decisions of the couple lack motivation, we just need accept that they were wonderful people, we learn late and incidentally about their involvement with the Polish resistance, but on the other hand there is too much insistence in my opinion on the ambiguous relationship between Antonina (good acting by ) and the Hitler’s zoologist put in charge with the Zoo. ‘The Zookeeper’s Wife‘ turns an excellent page of history into just another Holocaust film, full of cliches and melodrama. The story and its heroes would have deserved a good documentary or a better fiction film.

 

The first two minutes of ‘s Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets are one of the funniest introductions that I have seen on the big screen in the last few years. After the next 15 minutes I was starting to believe that I have made a bad decision about spending the coming two hours to watch a childish and soppy comics-inspired action film. What followed developed in one of the good entertainment films of this year, but one that not everybody will like, one that you need to be in the right mood to watch and enjoy. Even the comics-inspired films fans and fans of the series may be split.

 

source http://www.imdb.com/title/tt2239822/

source http://www.imdb.com/title/tt2239822/

 

‘s source of inspiration is the comic book series “Valerian and Laureline” written by Pierre Christin and drawn artist by  (with the difference that the heroes of the comics travel in time and space, which does not happen in the film). Most of the movies Besson wrote, directed and/or produced in the last thirty years have three lead features. One is his attraction for teenage heroes (females in most cases) – this is present here as not  the lead heroes but many of the citizens of the world created by Besson seem to be hardly above today’s drinking age if at all. Maybe we are suggested that the world of the future may have found the magic elixir of youth. The other is unrestrained violence on screen, and from this point of view we are treated with a relatively soft version of Besson, with stylized fights at comics level. Last is the visual creativity. From this point of view Besson is at his best, or maybe simply reached the best until now in his career. Compare by example with War for the Planet of the Apes which I saw (and wrote about) last week. Same techniques of creating characters by computer effects enhancing actors are used, but what an explosion of fantasy we have here, conveying the idea of a infinitely diverse universe, a direct descendant from the one in the ‘Star Wars’ series (or maybe the same world of the future). This is combined with the exceptional architecture of the City of a Thousand Planets, whose areas and rooms change every few seconds into new spaces of exceptional colors and forms varieties. Cinematography, Production Design, Art Direction are all breath-taking.

 

(video source Movieclips Trailers)

 

Is the story childish? Maybe, but this is after all the screen variant of a comics series. It actually carries logic, but it’s comics logic, not philosophy. No need to talk in too many details about actor performances – young (a rising actor star whom I somehow missed until now) and do what they are supposed to do and look how they are supposed to look, and it does not matter too much that a fine actor like or a music legend like are present in roles of adults. It does matter however that pop idol joins the team and creates a stellar interstellar (!) dance and music number that is to be remembered. She is part of the fun of this summer action movie, set in a beautiful and dream-like version of the future. A film for young people of all ages.

Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets is easy entertainment, but it is not cheap entertainment.

 

 

 

 

 

They do not make films like this one any longer. Usually this sentence when found in the review of a movie is supposed to be appreciative. Not in the case of ‘s Obsession. The film is made in 1976,the year Hitchcock was making his last movie, and owes a lot to the style of story building and telling, and to the cinematographic tricks of the master. One thing is however missing – the element of novelty and permanent search that was characteristic to Hitchcock, which made each of his movie different from the previous. Obsession is a film a la Hitchcock without the surprises. Even worse, without the humor.

 

source http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0074991

source http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0074991

 

The idea is interesting and ‘Obsession‘ may have been one of the first to use it. A rich man’s wife and girl are kidnapped and a fat ransom is demanded. The man (acted by ) decides to call the police, and the story turns into a tragedy when the car with the kidnappers, the wife and the girl explodes in the events following the police action. The hero is overwhelmed by remorse and guilt for his decision to turn to the police rather than just pay the ransom. 16 years later, in the same place where he first met his wife, he meets a young woman with a striking resemblance. He falls for her, and ends by asking her into marriage. Actually, here are some of the good moments of the film. Is he really in love or is the guilt driving his actions? Is he attracted by the young girl  or by the memory of the deceased wife (double role for )? Can the past be really fixed that easy?

 

(video source Arrow Video)

 

All is almost fine with the questions, the problem is with the answers and the way these are given. The way the conflict is solved is predictable in the big lines. There are some surprises at the very ending, they do not change to much of the essence of the story, and make the final scenes very hard to sustain in facts and in the psychology of the characters. In order to present the facts in the past, director uses a technique inside the flash-backs which I did not like too much, probably because it was not built well visually (cannot tell more, would be too much of a spoiler). Techniques from Hitchcock’s films are reused intensively, especially the musical score, but they seem already out of fashion already for the mid-70s. So is the style of acting, especially of the lead character acted by . On the other hand watching is a real pleasure, it is her that maestro Hitchcock would have loved to include in the cast of one of his movies.

Obsession‘ fails in my opinion and to my taste first of all because it tries to explain too much. I think that explaining less and trusting the cinema viewers to fill in the missing details would have been better.

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