Monday, May 27, 2013

This character's ambivalence interesting, but

Frances Ha stars contemporary indie queen Greta Gerwig and yes as per previous posts I’m a fan. So I went out my way this weekend to catch her at the Main Art. I liked this film and yet I was a little disappointed. Gerwig wrote this, after all, with director Noah Baumbach (Margot at the Wedding (2007), The Squid and The Whale (2005)), and this might be her biggest star vehicle yet (even after To Rome with Love (2012) and Damsels in Distress (2011)). The film’s poster says it all: she’s the sole focus as she kicks her heels in a New York park. Gerwig plays Frances, an aspiring dancer in the contemporary dance capital. But the operative word is “aspiring.” Her career is going nowhere, even faltering. But that’s not the main subject of the movie, though it ends up being so. No, the real focus is Frances’s relationship (call it a love affair without the sex) with roommate Sophie (Mickey Sumner, who’s been in The Borgias). The movie opens with various scenes of them in all sorts of settings, seemingly inseparable as their energy, jokes and intellect bounce off one another. All is for naught, however. Because out of nowhere – and with an insulting one day’s notice - Sophie announces she’s shacking up with her fiancé, an unlikely jock for a cerebral publishing type (Patch played by Patrick Heusinger) but there you have it. This sends Frances into some distress and she ends up moving in with a couple of artsy guts to share their $4000 per month apartment (she gets a discount at $950). Problem is, Frances can’t gain traction in her work or even in her life. She constantly describes herself as “undateable” and has mini crises of confidence, such as when someone tells her, “You look older but less grown up” or that she walks awkwardly and man-like. I found a few of this movie’s scenes stilted and the actors seemed like they were regurgitating script. Frances’s souring relationship with Sophie, and her ambivalence towards men and sometimes life, were interesting themes. But all of a sudden, at the end, we see that this damsel has succeeded in becoming a full-fledged choreographer. Gee, how did she pick herself up by her bootstraps and do that? The movie doesn’t at all say. So, okay, I guess best of luck to her.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

This movie silly? You could do much much worse


In the House (Dans la maison) (opening Friday at Landmark’s Main in Royal Oak and screened earlier this month at the Windsor International Film Festival’s monthly series) is all about the voyeuristic. François Ozon’s latest has fun with spying on the private lives of a boring middle class family, while it mocks them (think “Soccer Night in France”). It also ridicules a high school teacher Germain (Fabrice Luchini), a failed novelist, who eggs his student Claude (Ernst Unmahuer), to probe the interrelationships of his fellow student Rapha's (Bastien Ughetto) mother and father in the family gestalt. Claude, you see, unlike the rest of his dim-witted classmates, has writing talent. He can’t get enough of visiting Rapha, ostensibly to tutor him in math but really to capture everything he sees about Rapha’s family, in writing, novel-like, with every chapter subsequently reviewed by teacher. Claude’s visits increase, which gives Rapha’s mother Esther (Emmanuelle Seigner) – “the most bored woman in the world,” thinks Claude – pause, and makes her wonder if this visitor is a Peeping Tom. Meanwhile Claude falls in love with this beautiful housewife in distress. If all this seems silly, perhaps on one level it is. But it’s also interesting. How many movies create a story within a story, which serves as a canvas against which a protagonist can live vicariously or truly live? In this case it’s the frustrated teacher. If nothing else this film's characters are interesting, bourgeois suburban life is sent up, and we see a well acted performance of Luchini against Kristin Scott Thomas as his wife Jeanne, herself struggling as an avant garde art gallery manager whose job is on the ropes. More absurdity, right? Not quite. So, yes, this is a decent enough flick. You could do worse, much worse, choosing a movie on a Friday night.   

Monday, May 20, 2013

A conservative agent provocateur

Andrew Breitbart was a conservative agent provocateur. He probably was that way because at one time he was a liberal agent provocateur. He learned his tricks from the Left and applied them when he joined the Right. Breitbart was a fascinating - and polarizing – individual. Most people, even those who follow the wars between the Left and the Right, probably won’t recognize the name. It’s not top of mind like Limbaugh or Hannity. But he garnered increasing attention in the last two or three years after his websites such as Big Government, Big Media and Big Hollywood, engaged in some highly successful pieces of investigative journalism, including demonstrating how a fictitious pimp and his prostitute could get help from a government-funded community organizing group (ACORN), and exposing former Democrat Congressman Anthony Weiner for sexting photos of his private parts to various women. In every one of these scandals Breitbart was vilified but eventually proven correct. Not only did the Left hate his guts but a considerable number of those in the mainstream media did as well. This documentary captures a lot of those confrontations. Once upon a time there was someone named Abbie Hoffman who was kind of a New Left clown with a serious underpinning. Brietbart was the right wing equivalent, who said he had only two modes: "jocularity and righteous indignation." I say was because he died an untimely death just over a year ago at the age of 43. Breitbart’s contribution to conservatism is that he was a type of merry prankster who delighted in in-your-face confrontations, the kind of thing the Left does very well – “Back-at-you!” was his riposte. The documentary, Hating Breitbart, at the Birmingham 8, captures this frenzied personality very well. It’s fascinating to watch for anyone from across the political spectrum because it depicts the kind of real life confrontational politics that continue to play out at the upper echelons of U.S. political debate. Breitbart, a former leftist, came around to viewing most of the mainstream media as in the pockets of the liberal-left and Democrat Party, and called them out on it. For this he was hated, and hence the movie’s title....While a riveting documentary (by Andrew Marcus) this film is getting essentially no publicity. The screening I was at was virtually empty. It’s a shame because good documentaries from the Right should be getting the same publicity as those, such as Michael Moore’s, on the Left.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

This is all dazzling sumptuousness

What impressed me most about seeing Baz Luhrmann’s treatment of The Great Gatsby (which surely should  be number one at the box office based on the crowds I saw at the multiplex this opening weekend) was the young age of the audience and how rapt they were by the film. I guess Fitzgerald’s Gatsby is still required reading on numerous high school curricula. Maybe it was also a class assignment! I was amazed at how crowded the cinemas were. We couldn’t get tickets for an 8.30 pm screening Saturday (at MJR) and had to wait until 9.45 – and this was for the non-3D version. And when we walked in at 9.30 we were lucky to get two “stadium” seats together rather than be relegated to the flat front rows under the screen. But what was interesting was that this audience was overwhelmingly under 30, perhaps even 25. Other than a bit of talking at the very beginning after the movie got underway there was pretty much silence throughout its two hours and 22 minutes. Moreover, nobody seemed bored. I noticed only one couple walk out. So what was the appeal of, after all, a period film to an audience which is supposedly ahistorical in a mass culture that can’t remember beyond a couple of smart phone iterations ago? Heartthrob Leonardo DiCaprio? But there were also lots of men there. Okay, they were the dates of those whose hearts were aflutter by The D. Carey Mulligan ain’t a bad looker either, so many of the men went because of her co-starring role? But this doesn’t answer the question of why the audience was seemingly so engrossed by the entire film. Was it the glitter and special effects? The movie has already been criticized for its over the top pictorial gloss at the expense of the story’s real guts – which is questioning the excess, based on an illegally-gained fortune, of the roaring Jazz Age. And while the movie screen imagery is in many ways remarkable one does come away wondering what the heck narrator Nick Carraway (Tobey Maguire) (Fitzgerald’s stand in) sees in the “great” Gatsby (DiCaprio). Can he really admire a figure for holding out hope beyond hope to reclaim his long lost love Daisy (Mulligan) by throwing over the top parties at his palatial mansion in Long Island’s West Egg, across the bay from Daisy’s sumptuous home shared with hubby Tom (Joel Edgerton), in endless bids to gain her back? Kind of an over the top story to begin with, when you think about it, and Gatsby is considered one of America’s greatest pieces of fiction. No question the movie packs a kaleidoscopic punch with dazzling party scenes and a high tech recreation of 1922 New York, complete with realistic elevated trains and the soot which blemished the afternoon Manhattan sky from the window of the Plaza Hotel (this was before the EPA, folks). Soot – perhaps a metaphor? - was also all the rage in that era, as witness the hell-like valley of ashes (think Zug Island) through which the uber affluent had to drive en route to Manhattan. No, this film had no critical edge. But it was certainly luxurious to watch. The costumes, the images, and the extraordinary period detail saw to that. 

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Local film offerings an embarrassment of riches

It's starting to become an embarrassment of riches for local filmgoers.....The Windsor Jewish Film Festival concludes today with 10 films. (As usual it would be nice to see a broader audience for this great fest set in an excellent theatre at Devonshire.)…..But there's more - lots more - as we head into late spring, usually a time when things are winding down. Cineplex Odeon continues its Front Row Centre offerings, adding more and more variety. Tonight, with an encore May 11, is NPR’s quiz show Wait Wait..Don’t Tell Me featuring Steve Martin. William Wyler’s 1953 Roman Holiday with Audrey Hepburn is on May 5, 8 and 13. The Metropolitan Opera series continues with Zandonai by Francesca da Rimini May 4 and Handel’s Giulio Cesare June 1 and 3. There’s the new Exhibition series which screens important current art exhibitions. The Royal Academy of Arts presents 19th century French painter Edouard Manet in an encore May 25. Rockshow starring Paul McCarthy & Wings is on May 15 & 22. And the Sinister Series’ Last Will & Testament of Rosalind Leigh is on May 9 only. The Bolshoi Ballet’s Romeo & Juliet is on May 12, and the U.K. National Theatre’s This House screens May 16. Finally, there is the Family Favourites Saturday morning series. Cineplex just keeps pumping them out, obviously tapping into what it has found to be a wider and more diversified market than the mainstream audience……Then, for your enjoyment, is the Windsor International Film Festival’s recently announced Summer Series kicking off with Ken Loach’s Scottish comedy-drama The Angels Share tonight at 6.15 followed by François Ozon’s In the House, a voyeuristic suspense-thriller at 8.30 (picture above). On May 15 there’s Abbas Kiarostami’s highly-regarded and a Palme d’Or competitor Like Someone in Love followed by Stevie Nicks: In Your Dreams, co-produced and directed by Nicks and former Eurythmics’ Dave Stewart…..And the latest new film festival on the horizon? Cinetopia. This is actually in its second year. Starting out in Ann Arbor last year it has branched to the Detroit Film Theatre June 6 – 9. There will be more than 40 films drawn from festivals around the world. Hence the name! Nine of them, with special guests, will be in Detroit. More on this in a future post.