Les Girls Encore: Movie Reviews of The Handmaiden, Certain Women, Aquarius, Denial and Christine by Howard CasnerPosted: November 4, 2016 | Author: Donald | Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: Andrew Scott, Antonio Campos, Aquarius, Certain Women, Chan-wok Park, Christine, Craig Shilowich, David Hare, Deborah Lipstadt, Denial, James Le Gros, Jared Harris, Jin-woong Jo, John Cullum, Jung-woo Ha, Kelly Reinhardt, Kim Tae-ri, Kleber Mendoza Filho, Kristen Stewart, Laura Dern, Lily Gladstone, Michael C. Hall, Michelle Williams, Min-hee Kim, Rachel Weiss, Rebecca Hall, Rene Auberjonois, Sonia Braga, Soto-Kyung Chung, The Handmaiden, Timothy Spall, Tom Wilkinson, Tracy Letts | Leave a comment »
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First, a word from our sponsors: I wanted to say thank you to everyone who contributed to our Indiegogo campaign for 15 Conversations in 10 Minutes. We did very well due to you folks. For those who weren’t able to give, keep us in your thoughts. And if you are able to contribute in the future, contact me and I’ll tell you how. I will even honor the perks on the original campaign.
I am now offering a new consultation 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? FosCheck 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
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In my last review, I mentioned that a number of films opened with women as the central character. This week, this trend continues with five more. And now that fall is upon us and productions companies and distributors are going to begin release of films to qualify for the Academy Awards, we should see a number more as everyone races for a Best Actress nod.
The lesson I suppose is don’t look for female driven movies from Hollywood and the studios, but from independent and art films and the prestige pictures at year’s end.
The Handmaiden is a new import from South Korea, one of the two countries that, along with Romania, are producing the most interesting films internationally. It is based on Fingersmith, a thriller by Welsh (and lesbian) writer Sarah Waters that in the novel takes place in Victorian era Britain, but has been switch to 1930’s Japanese occupied Korea because, well, little is more universal than murder and other nasty deeds.
To show how pretentious moi can be, The Handmaiden is as if James Cain wrote Victorian pornography using a Rashomon type structure. Read the rest of this entry »
REEL MEN, REAL MEN, PART TWO: Movie review of Mr. Turner, Saint Laurent and The Theory of Everything by Howard CasnerPosted: November 25, 2014 | Author: Donald | Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: Anthony McCarten, Bertrand Bonello, Brady Corbet, Charlie Cox, Christian McKay Emily Watson, David Thewlis, Dennis Sciama, Dick Pope, Dorothy Atkinson, Eddie Redmayne, Felicity Jones, Gaspard Ulliel, Helmut Berger, Jacqueline Durran, James Marsh, Jérémie Renier, Lea Seydoux, Louis Garrel, Marion Bailey, Martin Savage, Mike Leigh, Mr. Turner, Ruth Sheen, Saint Laurent, Simon McBurney, Stephen Hawking, Suzie Davies, The Theory of Everything, Thomas Bidegan, Timothy Spall | Leave a comment »
First, a word from our sponsors. 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
I continue now with my reviews of the sudden spate of movies based on real people that are arriving late in the year because, well, we’re entering awards season, and what awards season would be complete without an overabundance of inspired by true event stories.
Early on in Mr. Turner, writer/director Mike Leigh’s latest film about the famed 19th century land- and seascape artist, his servants prepare a pig’s head for a meal.
What is so interesting about this, and the reason I draw attention to it, is that the porcine’s pate bears a remarkable resemblance to the great painter himself with the artist constantly snorting and grunting as if Babe was his mother (or father, I can’t remember whether that famed shoat was a boar or a sow).
In fact, one might say that, Timothy Spall, a member of Leigh’s stock company of actors and who plays the title character here, does one of the greatest, if not greatest, imitation of a sus scrofa domesticus I’ve ever encountered in cinematic history. If someone is planning a remake of Animal Farm, I think we have our Old Napoleon.
It may be a dubious distinction, but a distinction none the less. Read the rest of this entry »
Movie Reviews of ONLY GOD FORGIVES, THE WOLVERINE and WASTELAND by Howard CasnerPosted: August 1, 2013 | Author: Donald | Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: Hugh jackman, James Mangold, Kirsten Scott Thomas, Larry Smith, Luke Treadway, Mark Bomback, Nicolas Winding Refn, Only God Forgives, Rowan Athale, Ryan Gosling, Scott Frank, Svetlannd Khodchenkova, The Wolverine, Timothy Spall | Leave a comment »
I hate to say it. It’s so snarky and such a cliché and I hate it when I hear someone else say something like it, but I simply don’t know a better way to phrase it: Only God Forgives is the sort of movie a filmmaker makes when he starts believing his own press. In other words, it’s a film that shows incredible talent on the part of its director Nicolas Winding Refn (who also wrote the screenplay), but is so showy, ostentatious, gaudy and florid, calling attention to how brilliant the filmmaker thinks he is, that it becomes impenetrable as it drowns in its own pretentiousness. One just stares at the screen trying to figure out what everyone was thinking while you’re thinking to yourself, “I’m sure it means something to the filmmakers, but hell if I can make heads or tells of it”.
This is too bad, I mean, really too bad, because Refn is the wunderkind from Denmark who made his name with the Pusher trilogy (which I haven’t seen) and used the notoriety of those films to come to the U.S. to make Drive, that glorious neo-noir about a stunt driver by day, get away driver by night, who finds himself conflicted when he falls for his neighbor who has a little boy as well as a husband in jail. That movie was a controlled, tension filled character study with a real page turner of a story. In contrast, Only God Forgives moves at a snail’s pace with a story made up of beautiful sets filled with people who often sit or stand immobile looking like mannequins, all filmed within an inch of its listless life (the stunning cinematography is by Larry Smith)—it’s as if Macy’s windows were designed by Chan-wook Park or Kar Wai Wong.
The basic story revolves around an American with mommy issues who runs a boxing gym in Bangkok. When the American’s psychotic brother rapes and kills a sixteen year old prostitute, a fascistic, but righteous, police detective uses very righteous and fascistic means to restore order by manipulating the prostitute’s father/pimp into killing the brother. When the American finds out what his brother did, he lets the father go. But then the American’s mother comes to town ahead of an expected drug delivery and she wants vengeance.
Ryan Gosling plays the American, and like many of his other roles, he’s probably a bit too metrosexual for the part (he speaks so little so that whenever he does, his tinny voice seems a bit out of place). In the end, it’s Kirsten Scott Thomas as the mother, in wicked Babs Stanwyck blonde tresses, and Vithaya Pansringar, as the righteous police detective with a karaoke fetish, who deliver the most effective performances (Thomas also has the best line; when she finds out what her son did to the prostitute, she says, “Well, I’m sure he had his reasons”).
Much has been made of the violence in the movie and it’s there, for sure, but it’s nothing that out of the ordinary for this sort of film and I’m not sure what everyone is so upset about. At the same time, IMHO there is some hypocrisy here. It’s obvious that Thomas has more going on in her relationship with her sons than simply expecting a card on mother’s day. But while Refn has no problem throwing gallons of blood around the sets, he seems to balk at showing incest. I’m not convinced the movie is as brave as Refn may think it is. Even White Heat with James Cagney was more daring in this area.
In the end, Refn has nobody to blame but himself for how it all turned out. He is the director and the writer after all, so it’s a little hard to find another fall guy. But it might be interesting to take note: for the first film in the Pusher trilogy, he co-wrote the screenplay with Jens Dahl; Drive was written by Hossein Amini. And there is something about this movie that does show contempt for screenwriters. It’s a film that feels all driven by the vision of an auteur who doesn’t think he needs help to reach his vision. There was certainly potential here, but it might have been interesting to see how it would have all turned out if someone else had written the screenplay.
The Wolverine is a perfectly acceptable entry in the rash of blockbusters revolving around comic book heroes. There’s nothing that wrong with it and ends up being more fun than one might think. Perhaps the easiest way to say it is that on a scale of one to ten, it’s far, far superior to Pacific Rim and Man of Steel, but it’s no Iron Man or The Dark Knight. It stars Hugh Jackman in the title role and he looks great in his Elvis sideburns and motorcycle tough Marlon Brando clothes. The serviceable screenplay is by Mark Bomback and Scott Frank; the ditto direction is by James Mangold. It all revolves around some dirty dealings among a wealthy Japanese businessman; the Yakuza; and a walking virus of a slinky blonde (played amusingly by Svetlannd Khodchenkova, again in tresses gold of Stanwyck Babs). In the end, it should be said the movie doesn’t paint the country of the rising sun in a particularly positive light: it’s major themes seem to be that save a Japanese soldier from the bombing (atomic, of course) of Nagasaki, he’ll still stab you in the back, and Japan is a country run by the rich and the mob with a police force that doesn’t seem to exist.
Wasteland is a sort of heist film that is structured in such a way that the pay off finale is its only real reason for existence. Because of this, the screenplay (by the director Rowan Athale) has only one purpose and that is to revolve itself around the “surprise” twist ending (the surprise is in quotations because it’s really not all that big a surprise by the sweet time it takes to finally get there). What happens is often what happens in movies structured this way: the story and the characters never quite seem believable or satisfying since they are not there to drive or tell the story, but only to set up the ending.
The story unfolds in an as told to way: recently released petty criminal Harvey (Luke Treadway) is being interrogated by DI West (Timothy Spall) after being found at the scene of a crime, a break in at a club owned by a mobster with the mobster’s enforcer, who Harvey has a grudge against, lying almost dead on the ground in front of him. Harvey, who is in pretty bad shape himself, tells West what happened.
It’s not a bad way to tell a story, but it’s a fairly clunky one here. Athale makes one of the most common mistakes in screenplays like this: Harvey tells West all sorts of details that he couldn’t know since he wasn’t there to witness the events himself. And the way he tells a story doesn’t feel like the way an accused criminal would tell it, but the way a character needs to tell it so the audience gets the whole shebang (again, to set up the ending). He doesn’t even tell West the same story the audience sees: at the very end, we discover suddenly that Harvey has never used the names of his accomplices the whole time in talking to West, though in the flashbacks, the names are constantly used—so what parts of the story did he tell West and which didn’t he? (And just how hard is it going to be for West to figure out just who these friends of Harvey are anyway? One of them is Harvey’s roommates, for Christ’s sake, not to mention a character who is his ex-girlfriend)
Though there is something satisfying about Harvey’s ultimate plan (Harvey wants revenge and he gets it, sort of; the enforcer ends up in hospital, but there’s no indication that anything more is going to happen to him), it’s just dramatized in a somewhat slipshod manner and it’s all a bit convoluted with too many goals for the characters. And the ending with West listening to Harvey one more time is ridiculous and not one iota believable (again, it’s not there because the characters would act this way, but out of necessity to reveal to the audience that “surprise” ending).
At the same time, everybody gives the whole shebang their all. You certainly can’t fault any of them. They get more than everything out of their parts that they can and, in fact, act as if an Oscar nomination depended upon it. At the same time, they are trapped by lengthy sets of dialog that often go on and on. One doesn’t always know how to react the verbosity. Sometimes you admire the actors for their dexterity in saying Athale’s realistic and vibrant dialog; at other times, you just want to yell at the screen, just shut the hell up and get on with it already. Only Spall, with his long suffering, jowly bull dog look, gives the strongest and most interesting performance (and Athale’s biggest error as screenwriter is probably the underuse of this character).
Movie Reviews of SPRING BREAKERS, DORFMAN IN LOVE and GINGER & ROSA by Howard CasnerPosted: March 25, 2013 | Author: Donald | Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: Alessandro Nivola, Annette Bening, Brad Leong, Christina Hendricks, Dorfman in Love, Elle Fanning, Elliot Gould, Ginger & Rosa, Harmony Kline, James Franco, Oliver Platt, Robbie Ryan, Sally Potter, Sara Rue, Spring Breakers, Timothy Spall, Wendy Kout | 3 Comments »
There is a scene in Spring Breakers, the new bikini noir written and directed by Harmony (Gummo, Trash Humpers) Kline, where you think it’s all finally going to come together. In it, Alien, a white rapper/Scarface wannabe (a surprisingly amusing James Franco), plays a sentimental Britney Spears’ song on a white piano that overlooks the ocean while three of the spring breakers, model thin college students dressed in more than skimpy two pieces, sing along, dancing ballet like movements while holding assault rifles the NRA would be proud of, and wearing pink ski masks. It’s absurd, ridiculous, preposterous, unlike almost anything you’ve seen before, and you think, this is it, this is the moment when it all becomes something.
But it doesn’t. It just doesn’t quite make it. And in the end, that’s what the whole movie is. Ambitious. Daring. An unapologetic attempt to do things differently. And just one scene after another where you think it’s going to blossom, but never does, finally falling apart by the end in one big, flailing, frustrating mess.
Spring Breakers is a movie that starts out being about one thing and then changes horses in mid stream. It begins as a story about Faith, a college student who attends Christian youth meetings. She’s warned that Satan will tempt her, but God will always giver her the strength to withstand him. She’s not sure she buys it, but she can’t let go of it either. So when three childhood friends (who all ended up at the same college, which I thought was a neat trick, but sure, why not, let’s go with it) ask her to go on spring break, she agrees, even though she’s warned that the three friends are really sociopaths (and they are). And of course, they do what any group of proud sociopaths do before spring break: they rob a restaurant to pay for it (and get away with it to boot, but it’s the sort of movie where the police only show up at the convenience of the plot). And then on spring break, after a very, very, very, very, very, very (well, you get the idea) long time, they finally meet Satan, the aforesaid Alien.
The group describes themselves as miserable. But they’re not miserable because of their situation. They’re miserable because they’re, well, miserable people. But the movie is written and directed in such a way that you’re unclear Kline realizes this; you don’t know if he’s commenting on how self-deluded his characters are, or if he’s playing it straight. In fact, if I were to be perfectly honest, it reminded me of a screenplay I once gave feedback on and described as an incompetently written drama only to find out the author thought it was a comedy—I really couldn’t tell the difference. (At one point, Faith asks “why is this happening”—it’s hard to take someone seriously who is so self-deluded, but at the same time, I wasn’t sure whether I was or wasn’t suppose to take her seriously; I was the only one laughing in the theater).
So everything is set for a highly stylized, semi-satiric morality play. And then at the halfway mark, Faith leaves. She goes home. A very wise move on her point it must be said, but still, she never comes back. So if she isn’t what the story was about (as everything up until that point suggested), then was the point of the first part of the movie? Why did we even watch it? Kline actually does this two more times (changes the intent and direction of the story), until it feels as if he had no clear concept in the first place, that he didn’t really know what was going on and what he was trying to do. And the whole thing finally reaches an ending so absurdly ridiculous that one is just amazed at the preposterousness of it all.
I suppose that’s the point. But in the end, the finale is just one big long cliché. In fact, the whole movie is just one long cliché after the other. But Kline doesn’t do anything with them except present them at face value. He doesn’t comment on them. He doesn’t use them to make a point. He just treats them as if it is enough that they are clichés—which may be a bit too ironic and post modern even for me (sort of like someone copying the Mona Lisa so well you can’t tell the copy from the original and presenting it as an original work of art).
Spring Breakers is visually stunning. But it falls into the category of recent films like Stoker and On the Road and to some degree The Silence in which it feels as if the filmmakers think character, story, ideas are irrelevant. As long as it’s all told visually, that’s all that’s necessary. But the more I see of movies made like this, the more I’m becoming less and less convinced that a picture is indeed worth a thousand words.
At one point in the movie, Dorfman in Love, Dorfman (played by the cute and charming Sara Rue) is described as a cliché…a Jewish accountant. The description is half right. She’s a cliché, but not because she’s a Jewish accountant, but because she is a…well…cliché. A walking, talking, double taking cliché. In fact, one of the things that this light, breezy rom com has in common with Spring Breakers is that it is one cliché and formulaic contrivance after the other. And like Spring Breakers, it’s unclear whether writer Wendy Kout and director Brad Leong realize this.
Kout’s screenplay is sincere and well meaning. She shows all the appropriate empathy for her characters and the story fits all the correct troupes found in the more popular books on screenwriting. But it’s also a movie you’ve seen a million times before.
Dorfman in Love is about a woman whose journey is to find herself, to liberate herself from the stereotyped roles she’s been assigned, to free herself from the bourgeoisie trap she’s found herself in, to really discover who she is. But in this movie, that journey is basically defined as finding a boyfriend (at that point I almost tossed my hat up in the air and said, “That’s it, I’m outta here”). One of the oddest interchanges is when Dorfman’s father (played in an appropriately grumpy manner by Elliot Gould, though his performance, like so much of the acting, is a bit too on the nose) tells her he’d be happy once she is married and has children. This upsets Dorfman, though I wasn’t sure why since this seemed to be the goal she had set for herself as well.
Dorfman in Love is a movie in which the heroine is encouraged to be brave and take chances and really experience the world and have an adventure; noble goals, to be sure, but which, within the context of this movie, means taking the L.A. Metro rather than driving, and then walking around downtown (I suppose the demographic aimed at here are readers of Joan Didion).
There’s something about Dorfman in Love that is very reminiscent of Georgy Girl, Lynn Redgrave’s rise to stardom movie about another non-thin young woman looking for love. But while Georgy Girl is set against, and is a commentary on, the swinging sixties and the changing morality of the time, Dorfman in Love seems more set against the middle brow, urban middle class lifestyle reflected in off-Broadway plays of twenty to thirty years ago (plays that often won Pulitzer Prizes for reasons I never understood). Dorfman in Love just feels a bit dated.
The movie is bright, at times funny (the best line is when Rue runs down the street past some winos and one says to her “Change?” and she says, “I’m trying, I’m trying”). But perhaps the most ironic thing about it is that after it was over, I so wanted to go back and watch the anarchy and failure of Spring Breakers rather than the safe, works on its own terms, formulaic Dorfman.
Ginger & Rosa is writer/director Sally Potter’s touching and empathetic character study of Ginger, a young teenager growing up against the rise of nuclear weapons and the protests against them in 1962, England. It’s a milieu affected very deeply by World War II, even at that late a date. People still bear scars of that time. And the whole country still looks as if it is affected by the rationing (everything is bleak and everyone wears coats and heavy clothing whether they are inside or out).
There’s much to like here. The period detail is quite nostalgically wonderful and Robbie Ryan’s cinematography has an effective cold warmth to it (he’s also worked on such movies as Red Road, Fish Tank and The Angels’ Share). Elle Fanning (of Super 8 and Somwhere fame) is quite marvelous in the lead role. And the most interesting actors keep popping up: Christina Hendricks as Ginger’s long suffering mother; Alessandro Nivola as her not long suffering, but wants everyone to think he is, father; Oliver Platt and a sly minx of a Timothy Spall as a gay couple who are also Ginger’s godparents; and Annette Bening as a no-nonsense war protester (you kind of want to stick around just to see who else might put in an appearance).
The movie doesn’t always work as well as it might. It’s basically a chamber piece, a boulevard drama, but though it has many effective moments, it could use a bit more of the tension of a Henrik Ibsen/August Strindberg play. And the constant references to the threat of nuclear war and the end of the world never quite convince. I suppose the idea is that Ginger is spouting this outward conflict so she doesn’t have to face her inner and more immediate conflicts. But whenever anyone talked about the danger of the bomb, the lines never felt comfortable on anyone’s lips and seemed a bit clunky, more a distraction than an integral part of the drama.
But in the end, it’s a satisfying and often moving portrait of a young girl learning that contrary to appearances, life goes on and there’s always hope for a future.