Let’s start with best of these matched pairs. Force Majeure (MC-87, NFX) was a critical favorite and has much to recommend it, but for me suffers by comparison to a film on the same theme, about a moment of masculine weakness that undermines the trust between a couple. In this film Ruben Őstland piles on themes as he follows a picture-perfect Swedish family to a posh ski resort in the French Alps, whereas The Loneliest Planet pares the issue to its essence, as a couple hikes in the Caucasus, with only a Georgian guide as witness to their split. From the title -- enigmatic if you don’t know the legal term, but excessively overt if you do (an act of God or nature that dissolves a contract) – to the admittedly spectacular SFX of an avalanche, amidst so many clashes of gender, class, setting, and character, Force Majeure lays it on too thick, tends to be too much of a good thing. Still, it’s great to look at, and worth thinking about afterwards, even if its effect was mixed for me.
Dear White People (MC-79, NFX) was a pleasant surprise. For a paired film I’d point to School Daze, even though DWP writer-director Justin Simien refers to his heroine as more a fan of Ingmar Bergman than Spike Lee. While Lee deals with cross-currents of color at a historically black college, Simien tackles the same in a historically black dorm at a fictional Ivy League college. His writing is sharp, and while his first-time direction sometimes overreaches, a solid cast delivers both laughs and ponderable moments. This is a race movie in the best possible sense.
Two credit lines tell you all you need to know about Get on Up (MC-71, NFX). First is Chadwick Boseman’s performance as James Brown in this biopic, which seems even more amazing next to his portrayal of Jackie Robinson in 42. Second is director Tate Taylor, which explains the distaste I had for the style of the film all the way through, since his previous work includes The Help – I don’t even know whether he’s black or white, but he definitely has a Hollywoodized perspective on black culture. (White, I find out, no surprise there – clearly a Spielberg wannabe.)
Actually, there’s a third credit line that’s explanatory, producer Mick Jagger. But much better to watch the other James Brown film he got credit on last year, Alex Gibney’s documentary, Mr. Dynamite: The Rise of James Brown (MC-79, HBO). The fictionalized version is not just inauthentic, but positively annoying in its try-anything approach, darting around in time, and breaking frame with direct to the camera dialogue. Every time the music stopped, it made me wince. Still, either doc or biopic will remind you of the power of Mr. Brown’s influential holy-roller-meets-R&B style of performance.
It’s been a long time since
was at the forefront of world cinema -- the New
Wave is old news, its practitioners all but died out -- but the French
“tradition of quality” sometimes reasserts itself. Here are two films I happened upon through
Netflix streaming, which you might find watchable as well. France
I took an interest in The French Minister (MC-65, NFX) because of director Bertrand Tavernier, but was surprised to find it a rare comedy by him, rather reminiscent of the British film In the Loop and tv series The Thick of It (precursor to HBO’s Veep). Apparently it’s adapted from a best-selling graphic novel by an ex-diplomat, based on his experiences in the French foreign ministry in the run-up to the Iraq War. This is political buffoonery with a Gallic accent, but will be all too familiar in the vacuity of the movers and shakers, told from the perspective of a young speechwriter to the windy aristocrat who rules the
Quai d’Orsay with imperious imbecility.
From a few years ago, The Well-Digger’s Daughter (MC-67, NFX) is a Marcel Pagnol re-make by Daniel Auteuil, placid and predictable, but nonetheless pleasurable,. If you have radiant memories of
peasantry and landscape from Jean de Florette and Manon
of the Spring, or from My Father’s Glory and My
Mother’s Castle, then you might
find yourself, as I did, drawn into this hackneyed tale of a lower class girl
who gets in trouble with a bourgeois fly-boy at the start of WWII. The girl is a pleasure to look at, if not a
particularly revealing actress, and Provence Auteuil allows himself to
chew the scenery as the crusty old dad.
Something about the light on the landscape, however, made the film
irresistible to me.
The same might be said of The Two Faces of January (MC-66, NFX), where the Mediterranean light falls on
and Athens Crete. Hossein
Amini’s adaptation of a Patricia Highsmith novel goes for the Hitchcockian
period vibe, and has some success, though the story hardly convinces, fudging
key moments. Viggo Mortensen, Oscar
Isaac, and Kirsten Dunst all offer magnetic performances, as a steamy triangle
entangled in embezzlements and suspicious deaths. Along with the travelogue pleasures of the
cinematography, that’s enough to make this worth a try on Netflix streaming.
Gone Girl (MC-79, NFX) was a would-be thriller that attracted a lot more notice, but I confess my surprise that David Fincher could make a film so ridiculous, sleek as you’d expect but far removed from anything like real life. The film certainly served as an admirable platform for Rosamund Pike in the title role (Ben Affleck is no more than okay as her beleaguered husband), but Gillian Flynn’s screenplay shows all the problems of a novelist adapting her own work. What words can get away with, pictures make preposterous, plus there’s the excessive reliance on voiceover narration. I’d somehow avoided all spoilers about this pop culture phenomenon, aside from the central twist, so I approached it with an open mind, which gradually closed into incredulity and derision. Which is not to say there was no fun involved, but it was definitely splashing around in the shallow end. I put this in a category with films like Vertigo and Mulholland Drive – I can’t really see what some people see in them.
We conclude with duelingdoppelgangers, a hardy perennial theme of literature and film. I enjoyed The Double (MC-69, NFX) but found it a chore to watch Enemy (MC-61, NFX). The Double is adapted from Dostoevsky, directed by Richard Ayoade, and stars Jesse Eisenberg in the dual role. Enemy is adapted from Saramago, directed by Denis Villeneuve, and stars Jake Gyllenhaal in the dual role. Both films share a sickly yellow-green palette, but The Double creates an alternate 1984-ish world of drab conformity and amusingly primitive technology, while Enemy tries to make modern
and its suburban high-rises look as unappetizing
as possible. The Double is darkly funny,
while Enemy is lugubrious and enigmatic in the extreme. The ending of The Double fails to convince,
or resolve the situation it has artfully set up, but the ending of Enemy is
deliberately whacked out, and far from satisfying to me. The supporting cast of The Double includes Mia Wasikowski as love interest, and Wallace Shawn as the boss
of both Eisenbergs, the recessive nerd and the genial con man, along with a
host of humorous cameos. Enemy has
Melanie Laurant and Sarah Gadon as the interchangeable women of Gyllenhaal, but
gives them far too little to do. Toronto
Having gone from pairings to parings, it’s time to move on to a whole new batch of new & noteworthies.