MOTHER’S INFERIOR AND SUPERIOR: Movie Reviews of Lady Bird and Noviate by Howard CasnerPosted: December 17, 2017 | Author: Donald | Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: Diana Agron, Greta Gerwig, Lady Bird, Laurie Metcalf, Lois Smith, Lucas Hedges, Margaret Betts, Melissa Leo, Novitiate, Saoirse Ronan, Timothée Chalamet, Tracy Letts | 1,274 Comments »
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I think I will begin this review with a personal anecdote. Years ago, I was in the audience for one of the final previews for Stephen Sondheim’s musical Merrily We Roll Along, a tale told in reverse about three friends who betray the ideals they had when just starting out. It was a disaster. An unmitigated one at that. And it closed, I believe, around two weeks after it opened, if it lasted that long.
It was so terrible, I though the songs, with a couple of exceptions, were not just Sondheim’s worst, they were just bad.
A year later, I was in the cutout section of a record store (remember those?) and I ran across a cast recording for the show. I bought it and listened to it anew and realized the songs were wonderful and that it had been the production that was, well, let us be kind and say…lacking. Read the rest of this entry »
PERIOD PIECE: 1950’s America and Movie Reviews of Brooklyn and Trumbo by Howard CasnerPosted: December 9, 2015 | Author: Donald | Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: Brooklyn, Bryan Cranston, Carol, Christian Berkel, Colm Toibin, Dalton Trumbo, Dean O’Gorman, Diane Lane, Domhnall Gleeson, Edward G. Robinson, Emory Cohen, Helen Mirren, Jim Broadbent, John Crowley, John Goodman, Julie Walters, Louis CK, Michael Stuhlbarg, Nick Hornby, Otto Preminger, Saoirse Ronan, Trumbo | 6,492 Comments »
First, a word from our sponsors: I am now offering a new service: so much emphasis has been given lately to the importance of the opening of your screenplay, I now offer coverage for the first twenty pages at the cost of $20.00. For those who don’t want to have full coverage on their screenplay at this time, but want to know how well their script is working with the opening pages, this is perfect for you. I’ll help you not lose the reader on page one.
Ever wonder what a reader for a contest or agency thinks when he reads your screenplay? Check out my new e-book published on Amazon: Rantings and Ravings of a Screenplay Reader, including my series of essays, What I Learned Reading for Contests This Year, and my film reviews of 2013. Only $2.99. http://ow.ly/xN31r
and check out my Script Consultation Services: http://ow.ly/HPxKE
I’m not sure what it is about America in the 1950’s, but it has become very popular as of late in film. Three movies this year that took place during the Eisenhower era have captured the fervent imagination of the audience: Carol (which I’ve already reviewed), and now Brooklyn and Trumbo.
Hm. It seems that that time period also has a penchant for titles with only two syllables as well.
The reason for this mini-Renaissance may all be due to the success of TV’s Madmen, which dramatized America’s transition from the 1950’s to the 1960’s.
Or maybe instead, “transition” is more the key word here. The 1950’s is one of the great transitional periods in our nation’s history, slowly trying to grow away from the conservation way of life of the Depression and World War II, struggling to break free so it can surge into the Summer of Love.
And it all happened under a Republican president no less. Read the rest of this entry »
Movie Reviews of BYZANTIUM, I’M SO EXCITED, THE LOOK OF LOVE and YOU AIN’T SEEN NOTHING YET by Howard CasnerPosted: July 13, 2013 | Author: Donald | Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: Alan Resnais, Byzantium, Gemma Arterton, I’m So Excited, Luarent Herbiet, Matt Greenhalgh, Michael Winterbottom, Moria Buffini, Neil Jordan, Pedro Almodovar, Saoirse Ronan, Steve Coogan, The Look of Love, You Aint Seen Nothing Yet | 1 Comment »
Byzantium is the new vampire flick written by Moria Buffini and directed by Neil Jordan. Neil Jordan also did that other vampire flick, you know the one, uh, Interview With the… something or other. Let’s just say that he’s come a long way since then.
The story is about two women, mother and daughter, trying to survive the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, as vamps are wont to do these days. But because of the relative times in which they turned, the two masquerade as sisters. They are on the run from a brotherhood who want to eliminate them because women are not allowed to be vampires (yes, Gloria, the whole thing has a somewhat feminist slant to it; not only are they female vampires in a male vampire world, the mother takes over a group of prostitutes from a twitchy, male pimp). The daughter is played by Saoirse Ronan, who played the title role in Hannah, and her mother/sister is played by Gemma Arterton, who played Gretel in Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters. Both are more than quite good (Ronan is especially riveting) and are quickly gaining a reputation for playing characters you would not want to meet alone in a dark alley…or in broad daylight on a public street for that matter.
They are backed up by a slew of British B listers, including Daniel (Made in Dagenham) Mays as a hapless, shaggy dog looking motel owner; Sam (Control) Riley, as a sympathetic vampire (giving a much better performance than he did in the recent outing, the somewhat embarrassing On the Road); Johnny Lee (Elementary) Miller as a woman hating cad; Tom (In the Loop) Hollander as a well meaning teacher; and Maria Doyle (Orphan Black) Kennedy as a fellow teacher. All provide much more than adequate support.
To say Byzantium is a poetic mood piece is an understatement. It lives, breathes and exults in its moodiness. It’s filmed with dark, muted colors. The scenes always feel overcast, even during the day. There’s a menacing atmosphere in every shot set as it is against a fun fair, the dark streets of a coastal city and an ominous looking deserted, broken down pier. And it takes its moody time in telling its tale. Of course, there’s the rub. How you react to it will probably depend on how you feel about the pacing. If you like it, you will probably think of it as deliberate. If you don’t like it, you will probably think of it as sloooooooooow. I loooooooooooved it, so that’s that.
Writer/Director Pedro Almodovar’s new film I’m So Excited opens with a wonderful Saul Bass like set of titles that felt like it had that perky and fun feel so often associated with an Almodovar film, especially, to quote Woody Allen, the early, funny ones. Unfortunately, that was the last wonderful thing about it. The movie never gets off the ground.
I know, I know. That was a really groaner of a pun. But I think I’m more than in the right since the whole movie is sort of one big metaphorical groaner of a pun type thing. The basic premise is as fabulous as the three gay flight attendants that serve everyone’s needs (everyone’s). A commercial airline has taken off for South America, but when one of its landing gears won’t work, they must make an emergency landing. But to do so, they have to find an appropriate airport. This requires them to go around and around and around…and around, in circles, not getting anywhere. On top of that, the flight attendants have drugged everyone in second class so they won’t cause any trouble, leaving the first class passengers wide awake to deal with their personal soap opera like problems. Yes, indeed. The whole shebang is a metaphor for Spain today as it tries to grapple with their disastrous economy, beset by a variety of scandals.
But to reiterate: it’s a fabulous idea that, very sadly, just doesn’t work. And it’s easy to see why, and in a “if it was a snake it would have bitten you” way. Almodovar begins the whole rigmarole in the middle of act one. There’s no set up for the characters and their conflicts and much of what set up there is takes place off screen (like the drugging of the second class passengers). Because of this, we have no idea who anybody is or why their actions matter or why their actions are funny (everyone seems terrified of one particular passenger, but why is unclear until almost half way through the movie). And though the movie is suppose to be about the passengers on board, at a couple of points, the whole movie stops to go back down to earth to follow the actions of the lover of a famous actor who is also on the plane. The screenplay has no focus, no shape, no discipline. Normally, that would be positives for an Almodovor film; but here, I’m afraid it’s not—it actually takes focus, shape and discipline to create a satisfying lack of those.
With Antonio Banderas and Penelope Cruz in cameos for some reason as unclear as most of the plot.
The movie The Look of Love (written by Matt Greenhalgh and director Michael Winterbottom) also opens with a wonderful title sequence, this time one that seems inspired by James Bond films. But also like I’m So Excited, that’s just about the last wonderful thing about it too.
The Look of Love is the based on the true story of Paul Raymond who became Britain’s richest man by building up an empire of erotica (not pornography as he has to keep telling people who for some reason, just don’t seem to believe him). The movie gives us the facts of his life; it gives us the fashions and styles of the various periods; it gives us erotic sex, including such oddities as a British farce Raymond produced that has as part of its set a swimming tub inhabited by naked women who have nothing to do with the play’s plot (it was a huge hit). What it never gives us is a reason why anyone wanted to tell this story.
And like I’m So Excited, it’s also incredibly clear (see snake comment above) why the movie doesn’t work. By the time you get to the end, it becomes apparent that the movie was supposed to be a study of Raymond’s relationship with his daughter (played by Imogene Poots) who died from a drug overdose. But since half the movie doesn’t deal with this relationship (especially the half before she’s even born), the movie never seems to be going anywhere or to have any real purpose to its existence.
The cast does what it can with the material. Steve Coogan, as Raymond, who was excellent in the recent What Mazie Knew, is as bland and dull as his character is written here. But the movie does better in the supporting area, including Simon Bird of The Inbetweeners, almost unrecognizable in Sgt. Pepper hair and mustache, as the jingle writer who marries Raymond’s daughter; Chris Addison from In the Loop, also unrecognizable as Raymond’s right hand man and photographer; James Lance as Raymond’s attorney; and David Walliams of Little Brittain in a witty performance as a randy vicar (Matt Lucas can also be seen in a blink and you’ll miss him scene as Divine).
At one point, the movie has a scene between Raymond and the illegitimate son (Liam Boyle) he’s never met. It’s a painful study of awkwardness and suggests everything that the movie could have been, but wasn’t.
You Aint Seen Nothing Yet is the latest from legendary director Alan Resnais. It’s about a stage director who dies and in his will invites a number of the legends and soon to be legends of France’s acting community to an isolated mansion (including Mathieu Amalric, Hippolyte Giradot, Michel Piccoli, Sabine Azema and Lambert Wilson). There the director’s attorney shows them a new production of a play the director staged many times, Jean Anouilh’s Eurydice (though the play seems to be a combination of two of Anouilh’s stage works). All the invitees have at some time been in a production of this play under this director’s direction, so as they watch the play they begin to act out the parts themselves.
This is actually the most interesting aspect of the film, watching the way different actors would say the same lines; seeing actors who are far too old for the parts (since they originally played them when they were younger) still giving convincing performances; seeing the setting switch from the director’s home to modified sets.
But this movie never quite comes together. I suspect whether it works for you will depend on what you think of the play within the play they are performing. As was said, it’s a combination of two of Anouih’s works (adapted by Resnais and Luarent Herbiet) and though it starts out well, it eventually becomes almost incomprehensible until you lose all emotional connection to Orpheus and his doomed lover.
After the play is over there are a couple of surprise endings that aren’t that surprising and aren’t that interesting. Perhaps it’s best to say that the whole thing just went over my head.