Review: 5 to 7

5 to 7 (2015)

dir. Victor Levin

starring: Anton Yelchin, Berenice Marlohe

A story about a young writer falling in love with an older, married woman. 5 to 7 is a charming culture-clash romance that nimbly balances comedy and drama.

Writer/director Victor Levin’s debut begins with a montage of the bench plaques in Central Park.  The little loving messages from couples and individuals is reminiscent of Pont des Arts (the love lock bridge in Paris).  It sets the light and sweet tone of the film.  From Manhattan’s upper west side setting to the Jules et Jim references, 5 to 7 has a breezy and nostalgic air.

When Brian (Anton Yelchin), a struggling writer, meets the glamorous Arielle (Berenice Marlohe), he reluctantly begins an affair that can only take place between the hours of 5p.m. to 7p.m.  She assures him that it’s a normal type of relationship in France.  She even invites him to meet her husband (Lambert Wilson), who is in his own 5 to 7 affair with the sprightly Olivia Thirlby.  It is an odd setup that generates very funny moments, especially with the children.  They are so happy Brian is mom’s boyfriend.  Berenice Marlohe and Anton Yelchin have a warm chemistry that doesn’t cheapen the relationship.  Despite the circumstances, the characters genuinely care for each other.

The downside of the film’s old-fashioned charm is that it becomes too sentimental.  The parents, played by Glenn Close and Frank Langella, are affectionately, stereotypically, Jewish parents.  All the players speak earnestly and truthfully.  It’s a bit unrealistic, especially as the relationship reaches it’s inevitable conclusion.  The aftermath of the relationship is somehow treated too lightly and too earnestly.  However, 5 to 7 leaves a warm lasting impression.

watch the film’s trailer here.

Recommend: Yes. It’s an unconventional romance with an old-fashioned heart.

In Theaters (US):  3 April, 2015

Review: Slow West

 Slow West (2015)

Dir. John Maclean

Starring: Kodi Smit-McPhee, Michael Fassbender, Rory McCann

A sardonic western that relies too much on tone.

Jay Cavendish (Kodi Smit-McPhee) is a young man, a Scottish immigrant, on a quest to find his lost love Rose (Caren Pistorius). Michael Fassbender is Silas, the misanthropic bounty hunter who promises to help find his lost love. Little does Jay know, Rose is a murderous outlaw, wanted by bounty hunters across the west; including a nasty looking Payne (Ben Mendelsohn). Outfitted in a pimp coat made of dead ewoks and a face tattoo, Mendelsohn is subtly dangerous without overacting. All the actors are appropriately understated within this detached western.

Unfortunately for Jay his lover has moved on without him. His ignorance of this fact is sadly ironic, and unfortunately for the film, it is his only character trait. The tone of the film is ironic and sardonic. Strangers appear in the middle of nowhere and spout vaguely philosophic, irrelevant monologues. It’s lighter and comedic, but with one-dimensional characters in a fatidic story, it’s an empty experience. The depiction of the American West adds to this emptiness. It’s too clean. Perhaps too many films depicting the west as a hellish desert filled with disease and pestilence, has soiled (all puns intended) my view of the West. The landscape in Slow West seems more like an untouched, magical forest.

Slow West has a cool and ironic tone, but there isn’t enough substance.

Recommend: No

Movie Review: Clouds of Sils Maria

clouds

Clouds of Sils Maria (2014)

dir. Olivier Assayas

starring: Juliette Binoche, Kristen Stewart, Chloe Grace-Moretz

A post-modern meditation on maturity and power. Set in the Swiss Alps, and Maria Enders’ (Juliette Binoche) insecurities, Clouds of Sils Maria covers similar thematic territory as Black Swan and Birdman, albeit with more complexity.

Juliette Binoche plays Maria Enders, a respected and mature actress. She is asked to be in the play the made her famous twenty years ago. It’s a play about a younger woman, Sigrid, who seduces her older female boss, Helena, then abandons her. It drives Helena, to suicide…maybe.  Clouds of Sils Maria lives in the ambiguities and explores how power changes with age. The abrupt, ironically looser, edits enhance that feeling. However, when looking back, you feel you were being set up for a twist that never comes.  The Swiss Alps are a beautiful and otherworldly setting for this intellectual approach.  As the play is deconstructed by the characters, echoes of the relationship dynamics in the play are seen in the film.

Maria reluctantly accepts the role of the older woman this time. The younger woman is played by Jo-Ann Ellis (Chloe Grace-Moretz), a woman famous for her tabloid headlines rather than her Hollywood superhero movies. Maria is uncomfortable playing an older woman. She hates Helena, she’s too weak, she’s self-destructive, she’s boring. To her the role is admitting aging, becoming invisible. Her and her assistant, played by a surprisingly human Kristen Stewart, run lines, and run through Maria’s insecurities in the Alps. Kristen Stewart, as the assistant Val, acts as the devil’s advocate in Maria’s debates. Val is Maria’s right hand, her shadow. The pair have a best-friend bond, which allows Val to challenge Maria’s assumptions. She pushes Maria to see the depth and complexity in the character.  Val reminds her that the text hasn’t changed, Maria has. She suggests that vulnerability isn’t weakness. Binoche and Stewart have great chemistry that changes from sisterly, to mentor, to even sexual.  Their relationship is key.

Clouds of Sils Maria takes a unique approach to familiar material.

Recommend: Yes, it’s a discussion starter.

Review: Forever Into Space

Forever Into Space (2015)fis_card

dir. Greg W. Locke

starring: Kelly Sebastian, Tyler Evan Rowe, Oliver Fetter, Julianna Pitt, Jaz Valentino

A film that’s more about a feeling. Shot in crisp black and white, Forever Into Space is a glimpse into the lives of over-educated and underemployed twenty-somethings in New York City.  It centers on Audrey Harrington (Kelly Sebastian) a writer/blogger trying to earn a living off her writing, and her struggling friends.  The film pays homage to other New York-set films and subtly answers the criticisms lobbed at millennials.  With a budget of less than $1000, Forever Into Space is no budget film-making at its best.

The first comparison that comes to mind is ClerksForever Into Space shines in the small moments, where the characters are just hanging out, occasionally waxing philosophically. There is an homage to the bridge scene in Manhattan that puts the focus on the speakers rather than the object of their conversation. Maybe that’s a generational difference?  Unlike Clerks, here there is an underlying tone of hunger and disappointment.  It takes place in 2013 and economic uncertainty permeates the film. These are people who did what they were supposed to, like go to college, move out, get a real job; but they are constantly told that they are entitled brats who expect everything for nothing.  That disconnect is the films’ slogan, “the have-to-do-it-yourself generation.” It can be a bit slow, but its authenticity and immediacy make it worth a watch.

www.foreverintospace.com

www.cinequest.org

Review : ’71

’71 (2014)

dir. Yann Demange

starring: Jack O’Connell, Paul Anderson, Richard Dormer, Sean Harris, Barry Keoghan, Martin McCann

An intense night in Belfast at the height of the Troubles in 1971.  Jack O’Connell plays an army recruit thrown into the middle of conflict who must find his way to safety.

In Northern Ireland, at the height of the Troubles, an army recruit (Jack O’Connell) is sent into Belfast with his unit to quell the violence.  The unit is sent in to assist the local police force in an investigation.   As they enter they are met with open hostility.  Kids throw turd bombs at them.   A crowd soon gathers, angry at the army’s presence.  Then one of the soldiers is shot, and a riot breaks out. The situation gets out of hand and he is separated from his unit.  He has to find his way back, while trying to stay alive, in enemy territory.  The film is grimy and tries to get the look of an urban war zone.  The night sky is lit with burning cars and buildings; and the few people on the street rush to the relative safety of their homes.  Director Demange employs the shaky, handheld camera device, which at this point feels tired and showy.  ’71 gives no context to the situation.  The meaning of the movement, the riots, public opinion aren’t addressed directly.  Like Hook, we are thrown into the thick of the conflict.  From that confusion, the main focus is the humanity and underlying compassion.

It is a cat and mouse thriller where allegiances are unclear.   It soon becomes clear that the undercover agents (lead by Sean Harris) are also out to get Hook.  Their mission isn’t made clear, and, in any case, it doesn’t seem  to be the point.  It seems more to focus on compassion for a fellow human in a time of crisis.  That being said, no good deed goes unpunished.  The Lieutenant (Sam Reid) chooses to go into Belfast without riot gear.  It is a goodwill gesture that backfires spectacularly when they are unequipped to deal with the riot.  The army vet (Richard Dormer) that helps him, didn’t know who he was, is later threatened by enemy.  The juxtaposition of mercy and violence reminded me of Children of Men, in a good way.  Those were the powerful moments of ’71.

The ending, while not ambiguous, is not hopeful either.  Hook is not developed enough for us to fully invest in his story after the conflict.

www.71themovie.com

Recommend: I’d wait for the DVD release. 

Availability (US): in limited theatrical release 27 Feb

Movie Review: Predestination

Predestination (2014)

photo: imdb.com

photo: imdb.com

dir. The Spierig Brothers

starring: Ethan Hawke, Sarah Snook, and Noah Taylor

Poignant and intelligent science fiction drama.  Despite its trite premise, Predestination is a treat that places the focus on strong characters.

Predestination begins with a man in a trenchcoat racing against the clock to diffuse a bomb.  The diffusion is successful, but the man’s face is burned beyond recognition.  Cut to the hospital, where that man wakes up and is revealed as Ethan Hawke.  In Predestination, Ethan Hawke plays a time travel agent hunting down the man responsible for massive bombing in New York, 1975.  He poses as a bartender in 1970’s New York, presumably to find the killer.  Then, a man walks into the bar, and then the real story begins.

The bartender, Ethan Hawke, places a bet: a good story for a bottle of scotch.  The man tells the bartender that he was born a girl, Jane.  Jane (Sarah Snook) was an orphan who was always out of place.  She got pregnant and, during the delivery, the doctors discovered she had two sets of reproductive organs, male and female.  The doctors removed her female organs, and Jane was forced to become John.  Soon after that discovery, her baby was kidnapped from the hospital.  Sarah Snook has the meatier role, and tougher job as the emotional anchor.  This could have easily been given the Lifetime movie treatment or been hastily shoe-horned into the bomb plot.  Thankfully, the filmmakers place the emphasis on character development, so we identify with Jane/John.  After hearing his story, Ethan Hawke gives John another proposal: go back in time and kill the man who ruined him.

Predestination is based on the short story “All You Zombies” by sci-fi author Robert A. Heinlein.  After reading a synopsis of the story, it’s surprising that the piece the filmmakers added was the terrorist bomb plot, which is the weakest piece of the film.  Predestination is a paradox wrapped in an enigma inside of a puzzle.  The paradox, enigma, and puzzle add up to the belief that free-will is non-existent.  As the film becomes more deterministic, it also becomes more stifling.  The past determines the future which determines the past.  Ugh.  It’s hopeless.  Also, the weight of history gives the film a feeling of claustrophobia.  That doesn’t detract from the experience of watching the film.  That frustration prompts repeat viewings and discussions.

On a side note: for those that found the film silly, imagine the movie being remade as the Mirrors: the Kanye West Story.

Recommend: Yes.  Although the plot isn’t the most surprising, Predestination’s emphasis on character gives the plot twists a greater emotional impact.

Availability: DVD and Blu-ray, Redbox, Amazon Instant Video

Surrealist Sundays: Diary of a Chambermaid

photo credit: imdb

photo credit: imdb

Diary of a Chambermaid (1964)

dir. Luis Bunuel

starring: Jeanne Moreau, Michel Piccoli, Georges Geret

People are not as they appear to Celestine (Jeanne Moreau), the new chambermaid of a wealthy household.  Bunuel’s film balances satire, comedy, and drama with skill.  The film warns to be skeptical of institutions.  After all, they are run by humans.

The film begins with Celestine arriving at her new job.  She’s from the city, Paris, and now working out in the country.  Her fur trimmed coat and tattered stockings mark her as an outsider within the household.  The servants’ clothes are ill-fitting and layered, whereas the family wears tailored, rich fabrics.  As a chambermaid, Celestine is able to move within the upper and lower classes with ease.  Her outsider status makes her unpredictable.  Celestine’s origins cause the household to question her morals.  The lady of the house, Mme. Monteil, warns Celestine to stay away from her husband.  That is easy for Celestine because M. Monteil is a coward.

The first illusion that is shattered for Celestine, is that the man runs the house.  Mme Monteil is feared by her servants, she bullies her husband, she controls the finances, and is rumored to be frigid.  She’s just following her priest’s advice to have sex less than once a week and to not enjoy it.   M. Monteil blows off steam by hunting and watching, staring at, Celestine as she works.  He feebly attempts to hit on her, but she brushes him off.  It’s hard to believe that he initiated any of the affairs, when he hides in his room whenever he’s in the house.

The second illusion shattered is that of the kindly, old man.  Mme Monteil’s father is sweet to Celestine.  He shows her his scrapbook and he asks her to read to him.  He also asks to stroke her legs while she reads, and for her to model his wide selection of women’s shoes.  Celestine obliges and because the dirty old man trope is played for comedy, it’s funny.  While, the upper class exploit the lower class and blame them for the consequences, the lower class imitates but wraps it in the flag of justice.

Joseph (Georges Geret) represents the politically minded lower class.  He is a man of the people, who excludes immigrants, women, and other races from his perfect society.  He publishes a reactionary newspaper, but because he is the house snitch, it’s okay.  In other words, he is a hypocrite.  Joseph’s patriotism works effectively as a mask for his dark nature.

foot stompAt first it’s cruel and small, he chokes the geese before killing them; then he choking Claire, a daughter of another maid, and forces her to stare into his eyes.  However, it plays as a strange, symbolic action, and not as threatening as it sounds.  Celestine sees through his talk.  Unfortunately, she isn’t able to stop him from molesting and killing Claire.  Joseph’s patriotism makes him an unlikely killer to the police.  Celestine’s mission of revenge is thwarted because no one believes her.

The film ends on a downbeat.  Celestine is married to a rich man, but still wishing for revenge. Joseph runs a bistro and is seen as a good citizen.  Image is everything.