I begin again on the 10th anniversary of this Cinema Salon blog, with a renewed commitment to spontaneous and immediate comments right after viewing a given film, so I’ll kick off with the movie I watched on New Year’s Eve.
You won’t be able to keep this straight -- nor should you want to -- but I found the prequel-sequel Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (MC-79, NFX) much worse than its less-well-regarded predecessor Rise of the Planet of the Apes. The CGI special effects and simian simulations get even better, but the dialogue gets more phony and shopworn, with themes less provocative, characters thinner, and action sequences bigger but more formulaic. The new film has it moments, mainly from expressive simian faces, but struck me as tedious, with an open-ended conclusion that definitely does not have me looking forward to a further sequel.
Let me get another negative reaction out of the way before getting into more favorable responses. There’s nothing you can point to that’s actually bad in Craig Johnson’s The Skeleton Twins (MC-74, NFX), but the film is just good enough to make you wish it were better. SNL-alums Kristen Wiig and Bill Hader are on the same wavelength as self-destructive siblings with an ineffable bond, but trust me, this is no You Can Count on Me. The
Hudson River setting is barely sketched in, and the story is
hammered home by endless watery metaphors, instead of being allowed to breathe
in genuine human interaction. This film
delivers all its best moments in the trailer, adding very little at full
I wouldn’t call Pride (MC-79, NFX) a great movie, but it certainly pushed my buttons, with an energetically-told true story about a miners union strike in 1984 Thatcherite Britain, in which an unlikely solidarity in oppression develops between striking Welsh miners and London gays and lesbians. In the tradition of The Full Monty and others, this film by Matthew Warchus mines humor and pathos from traditional working class characters getting a fresh dose of the swinging life. Any film that includes Paddy Considine, Dominic West, Bill Nighy, and Imelda Staunton has an excellent chance of connecting with me, and while the real story is sugarcoated and glossed over, there are many moments that are funny and touching. As long as you go with the flow, and don’t stop and say, “Now wait a minute,” you’ll have a rousing good time.
With varying levels of recommendation, I point to two literary French films and several Asian family dramas, all of which are recent and available on Netflix streaming. I was drawn to Bicycling with Molière (MC-61, NFX) by the pairing of two French actors whom I particularly admire, Fabrice Luchini and Lamont Wilson. The latter, playing a celebrity with a popular TV doctor series, tries to lure the former, a solitary curmudgeon who has given up acting, to join him in a stage production of The Misanthrope. Some of the best scenes involve them in working through rehearsals of the Molière play, and director Phillipe Le Guay inserts several overt homages to Truffaut’s Jules and Jim, which went over well with me. There’s some slapstick and some romantic complications that don’t fit very well, but the byplay between the two acting frenemies is continuously engaging and surprising, subtle and multi-leveled, and the sense of place, a resort island on the Atlantic coast in the offseason, is strong.
Again, it was Emmanuelle Devos in the title role that drew me to Violette (MC-72, NFX), about the French writer surnamed Leduc, whom I didn’t know previously -- a wild thing whose career was sponsored and nurtured by Simone de Beauvoir (intriguingly played by Sandrine Kimberlain). In Martin Provost’s film, not at the level of his previous, the sublime Séraphine, we follow Violette from her WWII days as a black marketeer, through various sexual and emotional escapades up to literary notoriety and bestsellerdom in the Sixties. Sartre does not make an appearance, but Jean Genet and other writers do. I can’t say that I ever really “got” the thorny main character, but I appreciated the perspective on the Existentialist milieu.
In contrast, I got every character in Ilo Ilo (MC-85, NFX), however remote their experience from mine, and that breadth of sympathy is the signal virtue of Anthony Chen’s film, about one family confronting the financial crisis of 1997 in
. A husband
and wife work diligently as salesman and secretary to raise their family’s
status, but their neglected 10-year-old son starts acting out, so they hire a
Filipino nanny, who has reluctantly left a young child of her own back
home. So precisely observed; so knowing
about the economic basis of family and society; so unblinking at the flaws of
the characters, yet so warmly accepting of their humanity, this first feature
must be largely autobiographical, and totally won me over. For Singapore in the wake of the Great Recession, this is a
foreign film with great domestic resonance. America
Jumping off from the familiar tale of babies switched at birth, Hirokazu Kore-eda’s Like Father, Like Son (MC-73, NFX) follows its own path through a tangle of social class and personality in contemporary
. When the
hospital informs two couples of the mistake made six years before, they are all
complicated individuals with a complicated problem, and the film unfolds the
dilemma in a complicated manner. As is
typical of Kore-eda, the kids are a complicated delight as well. Though the film comes to focus on one of the
fathers, a striving young urban architect with father issues of his own, each
of the parents and children is presented with sympathy and understanding, along
with humor and some satire. The other
father first comes off as a grasping slacker, but turns out to have a warmth of
affection that the imperious one lacks.
As in The
Other Son, the mothers take a more
cooperative approach. Though structured
like a fable, the story is told with impressive and ponderable reality. Japan
I found this film quite wonderful, and it reminded me how much I liked Kore-eda’s previous films, Nobody Knows and Still Walking, which led me to another that I had missed. I Wish (MC-80, NFX) again focuses on children and their perspective on the grown-up world. Again the story is a fable of adventure told in realistic and domestic terms. Two delightful brothers are separated when their parents split, and concoct a long-distance plot to bring the family together again, by making a wish at the crossroads where two bullet trains from their respective towns pass. Each enlists a group of friends to accompany him, so there are seven kids altogether on the adventure, each with a wish to make. And for most of them, there is a parent or grandparent who aids or foils their quest. The film flashes back and forth with the speed of the children, who seem to run everywhere they go, a little faster than I could follow, so I would flip Metacritic ratings between these two most recent, but urge you to watch some Kore-eda film at first opportunity.