BORN AGAIN or PHOENIX IS AS PHOENIX DOES: Movie reviews of Phoenix and Irrational Man by Howard Casner

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.


and check out my Script Consultation Services:


phoenixIn the U.S., much has been made of the lack of women’s roles in film, especially as they reach, in movie terms, the unmagical age of 40. There are many reasons for this, but the main one, I suggest, is that American filmmakers (directors, writers, producers) seem to have absolutely no interest in creating movies with women as central characters.

Though I’m not saying this isn’t a problem everywhere, it does seem to be far worse in the U.S. In other countries, especially of the European variety, for whatever reason (perhaps a topic for another time), actresses of all ages, but especially older ones, don’t seem to have that serious of a problem in this area.

In fact, it is not unusual for directors overseas to constantly use the same actress over and over again, often creating roles and movies as vehicles for them. Claude Chabrol loved, while Michael Haneke loves, using Isabel Huppert. André Téchiné seems to worship the ground that Catherine Deneuve walks on. Francois Ozon has a thing for Charlotte Rampling. And who can forget Lars Von Trier’s constant use of Charlotte Gainsborough.

And from Germany we have writer/director Christian Petzold who has little trouble finding interesting and effective roles for his latest muse: Nina Hoss (quickly becoming one of the world’s more impressive actors). Together they have made several films, from the existential Yella; the unofficial remake of The Postman Always Rings Twice, Jerichow; the cold war thriller, Barbara; and now the Holocaust drama, Phoenix.

Read the rest of this entry »

A STUDY IN SCARLET and TALES OF HOFFMAN: Movie reviews of Lucy and A Most Wanted Man by Howard Casner

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.


lucyRicky Ricardo: Lucy’s actin’ crazy. Fred Mertz: Crazy for Lucy, or crazy for ordinary people?

               I Love Lucy

First, I must begin by being absolutely clear so that everyone knows where I stand. Lucy, the new sci-fi thriller written and directed by French filmmaker (and some people use that term loosely in this context) Luc Besson is a terrible film.

I mean, c’mon. You know it. I know it. We all know it’s terrible. It’s silly, nonsensical, preposterous, absurd, often makes no sense and is not remotely believable, even for an unrealistic fantasy sci-fi thriller.

Which is also, in m any ways, a redundant way to state it because, well, gees, I mean, c’mon, it’s a Besson film, for Christ’s sake.

But with that being said, it may very well be a…dare I say it…I dare…great terrible movie. Read the rest of this entry »

PART II: Movie Reviews of Berberian Sound Studios, Our Children and Barbara by Howard Casner

In the wonderful gangster film A Prophet, Niels Arestrup and Tahir Rahim played ersatz father and son.  In the Belgium film Our Children, the two are together again to play…ersatz father and son.  All right.  It may not have the same ring to it of Hepburn and Tracy, but the two are wonderful together and perhaps the main reason to see this domestic drama that, like Berberian…, starts out very intriguingly, but soon enough stops going anywhere and stagnates about half way through.


The movie is really more about Murielle (played by Emilie Dequenne, the wonderful actress of The Girl on the Train and Rosetta), who marries Mounir (Rahim).  Mounir is Moroccan and was adopted by Andre (Arestrup) after Andre married Mounir’s older sister so she could get her papers.  However, Mounir is not marrying Murielle for citizenship; he truly does love her.


But this is where things start taking an odd turn as it slowly becomes clear that, also like Berberian…,  something is off here.  First, Mounir asks Andre to come on their honeymoon.  At the wedding, Mounir’s younger brother suggests something’s going on between Mounir and Andre.  Murielle and Mounir live in Andre’s spacious apartment/doctor’s office and Andre pays all the bills while Mounir works as his receptionist.  When Murielle suggests that she and Mounir move to Morocco where the standard of living is cheaper, Andre says that if Mounir does, he will never have anything to do with him again.


But what exactly is going on behind all this in your face subtext?  One keeps waiting for the other shoe to drop, but it never does.  So was there something really going on or are the writers (Thomas Bidegain, Joachim Lafosse, and Mattieu Reynaert) and the director (Lafosse again) just misleading us for some reason?  Well, Lafosse only knows and he ain’t telling.  And Murielle does the same thing, or actually doesn’t do the same thing, as Gilderoy in Berberian…: she never asks.  She never asks what most people would ask somewhere along the way: just why is Andre so generous and paying for everything and just what is he getting out of this odd situation?


As the story goes on and Murielle has four children, she becomes increasingly stressed out and depressed.  And then she does the unthinkable.  But why?  I really couldn’t tell you except that she was depressed, but I’m sorry, I just didn’t buy it.  And though I did empathize with Murielle and her situation, it’s almost impossible to pull off a Medea.  But at least Media had a clear and understandable motive—revenge.  Murielle reasons seem a bit too vague and confusing.  So, for me, it doesn’t really have the emotional impact the movie is aiming for.


Though I think Arestrop and Rahim give the best performances, it’s Dequenne who won at Cannes (in the Un Certain Regard section).  And maybe they’re right in a way.  Murielle’s character made no real sense to me and I felt there was no character for her to play, but in spite of this, she does succeed in giving a first rate performance—from my perspective a triumph of talent over substance.


Finally, Barbara is Christian (Yella and Jerichow) Petzold’s new directorial effort.  It stars his usual leading lady, Nina Hoss, both of whom are becoming two of Germany’s most exciting emerging talents.


The story takes place in 1980 East Germany, still under Communist rule.  Barbara is a doctor who has just been released from prison for some unspecified crime against the state.  She is sent to a small town where she is to perform her duties at a local hospital while being heavily watched by the authorities.  At the same time, she is planning to escape the country with the help of her West German lover, that is until her plans are complicated by her becoming emotionally involved in some local issues at her place of employment (don’t you hate when that happens?).


Barbara is quite effective in the first half.  There is a wonderful feel of time and place, the very atmosphere tinged with a feeling of despair and sadness best symbolized by her riding a bike past a lonely cross in the middle of nowhere while the strong wind bellows around her; even when she’s in open country and can see for miles, she’s still afraid that somehow, some way, someone is watching her.  The details of everyday life in East Germany are convincingly dramatized (having to be careful what you say and where you say it because you don’t know who will report you and who won’t).  And there are deeply moving scenes of a young pregnant woman being forced into a work camp (called a death camp by Barbara) and the unclear diagnosis of young man who has tried to commit suicide.


Foss is excellent in the title roll, a character who has to be very careful about sharing her emotions.  As an actress, she has some of the same qualities of Greta Garbo, a haunting beauty who was also very reserved in her emotions so that when she laughed, as Barbara does occasionally, it lights up the scene.  But the writers, Harun Farocki and Petzold, do her a bit of a disservice.  As the movie goes on, it tends to lose its way mainly because Barabara is given two competing motivations for her actions, while also not given enough time or the structure to develop either one for their maximum emotional impact.  Instead, the closer one gets to the end, the more muddled everything becomes until the plot loses all forward momentum and the ending feels a bit too anticlimactic.