Thursday, October 27, 2011

Guilty as - originally - charged?

Alain Corneau’s Love Crime (opening Friday at the Landmark Main in Royal Oak) stars Kristin Scott Thomas (KST) and Ludivine Sagnier in a murder mystery that takes place at the highest levels of a multinational corporation. Scott Thomas as Christine is Sagnier’s (Isabelle’s) boss. Isabelle is young, smart and ambitious but in an ethical way that will help the corporation. She reports to Thomas who heaps praise upon her business proposals, which win client after client. The problem arises when Isabelle learns that Christine is taking personal credit for Isabelle’s ideas. Christine makes no apologies. “Good team work means we all win out.” Isabelle accepts this and moves on. Through a colleague Daniel (Guillaume Marquet) Isabelle is given an assignment away from Christine’s eyes. When the delighted American executives, for whom she drew up the proposal, come to Paris on the spur of the moment, she contacts Christine but not in enough time. Christine admonishes her after typically accepting congratulations from the Americans for knowing “how to delegate.” In her own defence Isabelle tells Christine,”I listened to you; I learned to act like you.” Meanwhile Christine had developed a kind of romantic crush on her acolyte, which Isabelle half-heartedly had gone along with. But then Isabelle becomes romantically involved with Christine’s paramour, Philippe (Patrick Mille). Christine calls Philippe, whose law firm works for Christine’s company, to her office. She tells him he must pay a significant debt or she will report him to regulatory authorities. Literally choking after the meeting he angrily fends off Isabelle. Later he apologizes that it was all because of Christine and he wants to make up. Isabelle agrees to meet him. But when he doesn’t show she calls his home only to have Christine answer. “The woman who plays with you destroys you,” Christine says. Enraged, Isabelle, in a frenzy,  crashes her car. From here the story is all downhill. Corneau, who at 67 died after the film was made, said the plot turns on vengeance from humiliation. It also plays with the concept of false evidence and the wrongfully accused. And while there are enough clever plot devices in the film to throw the legal beagles off track I remain with the prosecutor’s first conclusion. But the story is engaging enough and there’s a stunning score from jazz saxophonist Pharoah Sanders. KST is starting to age at 51 – gone are the full high cheeks; her face now is more lined and drawn. Sagnier at 32 is a young accomplished French actress, and no stranger to similar roles. She was in François Ozon’s 2003 Swimming Pool and his 8 Women (2002), which actually was a musical comedy murder mystery. Love Crime’s scenes are taut and the actors bring enough to the roles to make their characters convincing. It’s the film’s general premise that didn’t work. Guilty as – originally – charged, I say.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Film clips

I watched Fred Schepisi’s The Russia House (1990) this weekend. The film is  based on the John le Carré novel about the waning days of the Soviet Union. It was one of the first Western flicks to actually be shot in former Communist Russia. And released as it was in 1990 it was likely shot in 1989. Since it was also filmed in the fall it must have been made around the same time that the Soviet Bloc’s most important Eastern European satellite state East Germany was disintegrating  and the Berlin Wall fell. Uncanny scheduling that.....The movie stars Sean Connery and Michelle Pfeiffer. And given that it’s based on a le Carré novel it’s all about spies like them. But the movie has a hard-to-follow plot. The novel itself had a number of plot twists that would seem to pose difficulties for a much tighter movie script. But if you’re going to undertake the story you should be prepared to better define what’s going on. Schepisi (A Cry in the Dark, 1988) simply didn’t do this. But, that aside, the film was wonderful to watch because so many of the shots were of outdoor scenes of Moscow and Leningrad (now St. Petersburg). The old Soviet grey streetscapes and modern fortress-like buildings are there. But so too is the extraordinary art and architecture of, say, the Moscow subway, and seemingly all of St. Petersburg.

Halloween is coming up and there’s a film this weekend at the DIA’s Detroit Film Theatre that looks quite suitable for the occasion. It’s a 1959 French film called Eyes Without a Face (Georges Franju) which seems infinitely more terrorizing than the run of the mill schlock that goes for horror that H’wood spits out. The plot is about a surgeon’s daughter whose face is disfigured in an accident. He and his mistress go on a kidnapping spree, taking young women and grafting their faces on to his daughter. I get chilled just thinking about it. For more go to

Opening I don’t know when – if ever – in the Detroit area but soon to be coming to Toronto is Bruce Robinson’s The Rum Diary starring Johnny Depp. The film is based on a little known Hunter S. Thompson (he the gonzo journalist who committed suicide in 2005) book of the same name. Depp plays a Hunter Thompson-like character, a journalist, who flees New York for Puerto Rico and a newspaper seemingly outfitted with all manner of misfits. Depp, of course, played the Thompsonesque Raoul Duke in Thompson’s acclaimed book Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (Terry Gilliam 1998). He also befriended the good doctor and apparently had promised him to make a movie of The Rum Diary after convincing Thompson to publish the book. The movie opens Oct. 28.  (UPDATE: it's opening Friday in Dee-troit; and yes, even in Windsor)

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Laugh at traditional Brit cuisine

There seems to be no end to nostalgia for the 1960s. At least where Baby Boomers are concerned. And so we have it again with Toast, the just-released British film starring Helena Bonham Carter and which opens tomorrow at Landmark’s Maple in West Bloomfield. The premise is terrible British food. Or at least the kind of food that ruled Britannia before the advent of large scale immigration. Canned peas and deep fried toast anyone? The story is actually a bio of a famous Brit food and TV personality Nigel Slater (based on his memoir), whose dearly beloved mum (Victoria Hamilton) cooks canned vegetables by actually placing the cans in boiling water! When young Nigel spots more exotic fare in the local grocer’s he becomes fascinated with good food, attempting to introduce more unconventional meals to his very square mid-1960s Midlands parents. His dad (Ken Stott) balks at spaghetti, for God’s sake, not realizing it has to be cooked, and then complains it’s “soft.” There is a subplot here. Besides his budding interest in the culinary arts young Nigel is also attracted to those of his own sex. He espies the family gardener changing clothes from his Marlon Brando-like leather motorcycle duds. His dad of course then fires the gardener. Despite Nigel’s mum’s inadequate cooking he loves her dearly. But a respiratory illness eventually takes her life. Soon after dad hooks up with Mrs. Potter (Bonham Carter), a sexy tart who’s cheating on her husband. Nigel doesn’t want her in the house but can’t resist her delectable cooking. As his interest in food grows so does Nigel’s and Mrs. Potter’s rivalry. Enough said. I’m getting very tired of nostalgia films of this period. And I think a cease and desist order should be placed on making more of them. That said Bonham Carter is good here though she seems to reprise Julie Walters in Educating Rita. I also found it hard to hate her as an uncouth commoner because I know she’s personally not like that. Perhaps Julie Walters or Lesley Manville (Another Year) would have been more convincing. And while the film is a bio it also seems clichéd to tie in a love of cooking with gayness. There are no real problems with the film. It’s well acted and there are some touching moments, especially as young Nigel (played by Oscar Kennedy and Freddie Highmore at different ages) contemplates love for his mum, food, and what he will do the rest of his life - a professional interest in culinary, surely. But a few quibbles. For a family so non-food savvy how do they have an extraordinary vegetable garden, tended by the gay gardener Josh (Matthew McNulty)? And could even a “common” woman like Mrs. Potter fall for an aged grumpy and sexless male like Nigel’s father? Oh well, there's no accounting for attraction. There is also a fixation on the songs of Dusty Springfield. I’m a huge Springfield fan but, come on, this is a little much. Or is it simply a gay thing? The film is billed as a comedy, and there are some humorous moments but overall the effect is touching and maudlin. It’s not bad for S. J. Clarkson’s directorial debut but even this director should be banned from making more mid-Sixties nostalgia films.