Labor Day – Ridiculously Predictable

Labor Day is weird. Among all Jason Reitman‘s work, this movie is the oddest.

While gathering Kate Winslet and Josh Brolin together on screen, their performances couldn’t offset the terrible plot and some scenes that left me quite perplex. It was weird watching it and weird experiencing some very particular emotions.

Screen Shot 2014-11-23 at 10.01.55If the film was predictable, either in its development or in its end, some events caused profound intern confusions.
But let’s go through the story; Kate Winslet plays Adele a divorced mother, raising her 13-year-old son, Henry (Gattlin Griffith) on her own. Since her husband left her for his secretary, Adele stopped going out anymore, except on very rare occasions. That day, she goes to the supermarket with her son, and lucky form them Frank (Josh Brolin) appears in front of Henry, bleeding. He quickly sort of blackmails the family into taking him with them to their house.

Screen Shot 2014-11-23 at 10.07.25Frank escaped prison, while in the hospital recovering from an appendicitis he jumped through the window.

Not surprising at all, Adele will fall in love with him, and Henry finds a new paternalistic figure, who doesn’t wait a long before teaching him baseball. But Frank is also a handyman, fixing every thing he can around the house. A perfect man, wrongly convicted (Labor Day’ screenplay isn’t the most original one.)
The icing on the cake? He cooks. That element, will provide the most senseless and bizarre scenes, one of them which I bet will become cult.

After tying Adele to a chair with lot of sensuality and for some logical purpose, he goes and cooks chili con carne. He decides then to feed the woman himself with a spoon.
But this scene wasn’t the oddest. When later, a neighbor brings to Adele and Henry his regular bucket of almost rotten peaches, Frank decides that, to make profits from those, a pie would be the perfect solution. Its preparation included mixing the peaches with other ingredients, therefore our three characters blended their hands with the peaches, in a same bowl, and that gave a very laughable scene.
Made me also wonder about all that food fetishism, either in the cooking, or the elements chosen, such as the fruit.

Screen Shot 2014-11-23 at 10.28.30I also asked myself if Reitman was aware of those ridiculous aspects while directing his movie, or adapting the novel of Joyce Maynard into a screenplay. While Kate Winslet perfectly embodied her character, with which I strongly empathized to some extent, and Josh Brolin who just fit into his comfort zone, I didn’t understand that story, and some of its aspects.

Predictable and grotesque it left me in great perplexity. Especially when the cinematography of Eric Steelberg was of an extreme beauty, refined, and some shots were breathtaking and could have been very interesting if the story material was sufficient enough and supported it.

Screen Shot 2014-11-23 at 10.00.04 Screen Shot 2014-11-23 at 10.01.42 Screen Shot 2014-11-23 at 10.20.03Jason Reitman really missed that one, a shame.

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Devi (The Goddess) – Oneiric Incarnation

Satyajit Ray contributed a lot to the Indian cinema, and Devi is one his major work along with the Apu trilogy.

Back in the 1960, when Devi was released, it created an interesting controverse, understandable considering the issue the movie tackled.
Indeed, Ray was bold enough to direct an anti-hinduism film, or more especially an anti-fanaticism film.

Screen Shot 2014-11-20 at 9.45.43Based on a novel written by Prabhat Kumar Mukherji and inspired by the theme of the goddess introduced by Rabindranath Tagore, Devi relates the story of a girl, Dayamoyee (Sharmila Tagore) who lives in the same house as her  father in law Kalikinkar (Chhabi Biswas), as she married Umaprasad (Soumitra Chatterjee). She is only seventeen, full of happiness and full of love for her nephew Khoka (Arpan Chowdhury) with who she has a tender, accomplice relationship.

However, her husband has to go to Calcutta in order to pass his English exams, and leave her with his father with whom he is in total ideological opposition. While Umaprasad is looking for modernity, ways to develop his intellect, Kalikinkar is very traditional, and also very religious.
The departure of her husband will provoke a dark turn of events.

Screen Shot 2014-11-20 at 9.35.16In hinduism, the goddess Mahkali embodies power and also death; she is often called “Ma”. In the movie, she is venerated and several rituals are showed; singings, offerings etc. The great religiosity of the characters depicted in Devi will attain its climax when Kalikinkar dreams of his daughter-in-law being the incarnation of Ma. The director then portrays the descent into madness of Dayamoyee, and the collective fanaticism of her surrounding.

Screen Shot 2014-11-20 at 9.30.41 Screen Shot 2014-11-21 at 10.32.30The strong features of Mahkali; feminism and power, was forced into the fragile, weak girl, and created great confusion and cracks in Dayamoyee. Helpless, she couldn’t oppose the choice of her father-in-law, and then the belief of the whole community. This belief was overwhelmingly powerful, and when she was asked to cure a homeless’ son, and succeed in it, she started believing she might, indeed, be an incarnation of the goddess. She couldn’t continue questioning it.

That collective madness was driven by religious fanaticism, filmed and denounced by Ray, which triggered a controverse.
The movie questioned and put in opposition, knowledge and modernisation on one side and tradition and religion on the other.
Worth your time.

Dogville – Grace’s Dilemma

Dogville is a sort of mise en abyme ; a filmed theater play. As a decor; spaces defined with chalk, basic home furniture and cars. The set is a big studio, which walls go black when it is night, and white when it is day.
Obviously sound plays an important role; sounds of inexistant doors getting open and closed, rain, or even sounds of grass being dig out of the ground.

Handheld shot, it is the only applied rule of Dogma 95. Dogville contains many match cuts, however, it isn’t disturbing due to the very unusual setting and composition of the film.
Divided in nine chapters, Dogville is narrated by John Hurt relating the story of Grace (Nicole Kidman) who, trying to escape some gangsters, finds a refuge in the small town of Dogville, isolated from the city, situated in the periphery.

Screen Shot 2014-11-19 at 8.36.48However, it isn’t that easy being accepted right away in a town composed of just fifteen people, where everyone knows each other, and you’re supposedly being chased by gangsters.

Lars von Trier exploits the idea of “the fear of the outsider” and then make Grace’s character go through several challenges; the first one being a two weeks trial. Indeed, after being rescued by Tom (Paul Bettany), who under the charm of the fragile blond, introduces her to the others and get from them a two weeks period in which Grace would have to prove her harmlessness and goodwill. For that, she’ll do whatever chore is assigned to her, and since Dogville citizens couldn’t find any useful things for her to do, they made her do things that wasn’t done already.

Screen Shot 2014-11-19 at 8.50.34However, just like a Haneke movie things are never that easier. It quickly turns into a sort of vicious sadomasochistic games she’ll be blackmailed with.
Jason (Miles Purinton), one of the seven kids of an unhappy couple, starts the festivities by asking Grace to spank him, and if she didn’t accept, he’ll tell his mother she hit him, but if she does he’ll keep his mouth shut. A perverse but paradoxical game putting pressure on Grace’s psychology.

Things got even more bitter as time went by.

Another paradox rises; with the venue of the fugitive into the lives of those isolated people, she becomes the object of desire of all men, and as mentioned by Liz (Chloë Sevigny), who was before her, the most coveted girl, Grace relieved her from that awful position. However, either they want to admit it or not, the blond woman, towards who all the attention is turned, represents a threat and rouses jealousy.
As it wasn’t enough, Grace gets raped by the men (except Tom, who pretends to be in love with her), as if they couldn’t hold their impulses any longer and as if it was their right.

Screen Shot 2014-11-19 at 9.26.48The movie forms a loop where the black-skinned cleaning lady who was presented as the being at the end of the social ladder, started to even herself yell and order Grace to execute all sorts of chores that weren’t supposed to be useful before her arrival. Indeed, most of her contribution wasn’t irreplaceable, but suddenly it wasn’t even enough.

Lars von Trier, explained and even made a hyperbole out of it by putting our main character as sort of immigrant, getting a bad treatment from natives.
Grace embodied a sort of modern Cosette/Cinderella character, or more accurately a Justine from Sade’s novel.

The idea wasn’t how a town was supposed to trust a stranger but how a stranger was supposed to trust a community. A community of dogs, answering to their own primary instincts and desires, dogs constituting Dogville.

In a nutshell, despite its long length, Dogville is a must-see Lars von Trier’s.

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Jimmy’s Hall – A Very Light Biopic

Ken Loach‘s last feature focused on Jimmy Gralton, the leader of the actual Communist Party of Ireland, back in 1932.
This figure of not only communism, but cultural revolution, was obliged to flee Ireland during the Civil War of the country in the 20’s, after building a cultural space. Indeed, this “hall” – as called in the movie – combined different activities such as singing, poetry, box and dance. It went against the strict values of the Catholic Church and after Jimmy’s (Barry Ward) escape, it was shut down.

Screen Shot 2014-11-18 at 10.05.18Jimmy’s Hall relates his story starting the day of his coming back ten years after the event. It didn’t take long to him to reopen the hall and gather along the old activists and teenagers in search of freedom.
However, it didn’t take long also to get the attention of the Church again.
When Jimmy flee the country, he went to the United States, where he wandered around jazz clubs, animated by black musicians, and assisted to the evolution of the music genre. Therefore, when he returned, he introduced new dance moves to the members of the hall, moves bearing sexual meanings and african-american origins, but most importantly, moves caring freedom of expression, and opposition.

Ken Loach filmed the movie as an old movie broadcasted on TV on a lazy afternoon.

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However, as many Loach’ movies, his biopic bears and conveys values and elements of denunciation. Here, an image of an old Ireland, where the Catholic Church wanted to contain all the progressive ideas of the time embodied by the character of Jimmy. A Church that is represented as castrator, negatively portrayed; a source of violence controlled by a priest aiming as inspiring respect and devotion to the population of Leitrim.

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Despite all that, the film lacks of twists. Indeed, it is really smooth, very light, and thus, lacks of a little something that will get it out of the tv feature film aspect.
The issue is also located in the angle Loach has adopted, filming from one perspective, thus lessening the complexity. It is a light movie, with a happy ending and no shots taking by night increasing this idea of lightness.

In a nutshell, all the craziness, intensity, and thus depth Jimmy’s Hall could have borne was put aside, which is very unfortunate.

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Frank – Outsider Art

Frank provoked something in me. It was one of those movie reaching me through unknown patterns and shaking things up slowly but intensely.

Screen Shot 2014-11-17 at 9.40.10Directed by Lenny Abrahamson and starring Michael Fassbender in the role of Frank, Maggie Gyllenhaal as Clara and Domhnall Gleeson interpreting Jon, the movie approaches some of the deep depths of music and its process of creation.

The movie starts by introducing us to Jon, a red headed artist in search of inspiration for his music compositions. As many artists, he picks up things he sees in the street and try to create something by combining them altogether.

Screen Shot 2014-11-17 at 9.19.27 Screen Shot 2014-11-17 at 9.20.50But, well, it doesn’t always work that way. Something is lacking, originality? Beauty? Depth? Hard to put a finger on it. Jon’s dream is to be known, to play in a band, be part of something as powerful as that.
Lucky for him, all day, weird signs announced a very close event that will happen and change the boring course of his life. Indeed, he assists to the drowning of a band’s keyboardist and got chosen to replace him.
His first experience will then be with total strangers composing very experimental music (which reminded me of the music played by Allison in Yes Man).

Screen Shot 2014-11-17 at 9.25.29Starting from that, we enter a total new world, where everything seems extremely sensitive, where every sound becomes source of inspiration, resource for creation, element of rawness and produces a very unique music, that isn’t made of artifices.
Actor, Domhnall Gleeson played to the perfection his role, along with Fassbender and Gyllenhaal, that are flabbergasting, and boasting incredible emotions. Jon, enter a band linked not only by the music, but by unbreakable bonds, or should I say, one bond embodied by Frank.

Abrahamson’s camera is an eye to an intense, full of musical tensions, closed and intimate space, where you could almost see thin electricity lines surrounding the characters, during their fusion for creation.

Screen Shot 2014-11-17 at 9.37.54The movie tackles the issue at the core of many contemporain debates; is music supposed to please the ones making it, or the ones who’ll hear it?

Once musiciens comply to others’ tastes they are fully under the control of their listeners and loose their personal touch, and give up on the emotion their music was supposed to convey; one of the most tremendous loss.
What is amazing, is the sensitiveness emanating from Fassbender, wearing that big head as a mask protecting from the surrounding world but also as a symbol to what kind of musician Frank is. He has a strong, overwhelming empathy and  is a mystery that isn’t supposed to be puzzled out.

The incomprehension but also the admiration Jon is bearing for Frank, is somehow destructive. Just like fans, he wants to see Frank naked, naked from his mask, but also naked from any mystery; that could dangerously lead to loosing all creativity and powerfulness.

Screen Shot 2014-11-17 at 9.48.20Maggie Gyllenhaal performance is outstanding, she played Clara is way that is very poignant. Her character is complex; protective but authoritarian, creative but castrator.

Screen Shot 2014-11-17 at 10.13.29What pinched my heart, and the point where Abrahamson’s movie conquered me was when Frank is showed as embodying the musician, embodying what’s going on many musician’s heads, that is bearing a double meaning. It is all in his head.
But then, when we learn in the beginning of the film that Frank was in psychiatric hospital along with his manager Don (Scoot McNairy), a question has to be asked; is Frank, under the mask really disfigured or is he just mentally ill?

And this is where the director’s played a little, with words and images. Where the complexity of music is well captured by the director and the actors; all the sensitivity that can be coming from mentally ill people, and again the metaphor is confusing. However, Frank – whether it is the movie or the character – is fucking poignant.

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Tom à la Ferme – Stockholm Syndrome

Tom à la Ferme is the first feature of young director Xavier Dolan I succeeded in finding good. Even though like the first three movies, it left me with a bizarre feeling or deep disturbance.
His characters somehow, scare me because of their rapid transformations, or should I say inner disfiguration, supported by calm, passive behaviors.

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Tom (Xavier Dolan) is a young boy with a marginal style, and just lost someone, who we’ll understand was his lover, Guillaume. And thus, Tom goes into the family farm for the funeral, where lives the mother Agathe (Lise Roy), and the handsome brother, Francis (Pierre-Yves Cardinal).
Of course he has to pretend to be a colleague of Guillaume, but if this lie worked with the mother, it didn’t with Francis, who know who he is and thus threatened him if he said anything upsetting to Agathe.

However Francis does more than that. A stereotyped homophobe, sexy, but violent, sensitive but paranoid, the character’s psychology is the most captivating and interesting thing of the movie. And I believe Tom à la Ferme is really about Francis. The man who always protected brother and mother, until the end.
His relationship with Tom explored in the movie, reflected a deep trauma and distorted psychology.

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Tom is a kind of cobaye Francis wants to experiment on. He hates him because he represents a cause to Guillaume’s death and also reminds him of his brother marginal sexual orientation. But on the other hand is kind of fascinated, because he wants to understand what Guillaume found in this boy, and because Agathe always preferred her younger son. He managed through getting Tom’s love or admiration, prove that he was better or at least as good as his deceased brother.

Between ambiguous sexual relationship that we feel happens beside the screen and a sad masochistic game, Dolan’s film flutters around tricky human behaviors.

Screen Shot 2014-11-13 at 11.16.28What is beautiful in Tom à la Ferme is the two parallel issues tackled; the mourn of a mother who lost her son and the awful reality of him coming off the others. Coming from his entourage who knew who Guillaume was. Even though Francis wants to protect his mother from the truth of his brother being a libertin, at some point, Agathe will reach a climax of incomprehension. How to construct fully the image of a beloved one, who you didn’t see for years, based only on what we report to you?

Screen Shot 2014-11-13 at 10.12.31The only element I would reproached to the director, is the use of ellipses concerning Tom’s development as the relationship, bouncing from tender to violence, became recurrent, or even quotidian.
Anyway, this negative point, is more than offset by the actors’ performances, that are very convincing, especially, Lise Roy who’s just breathtaking.

In a nutshell, Tom à la Ferme reminded me a little of early Haneke‘s work, and explored new outcomes to Stockholm syndrome relationship and it conquered me.

Starred Up – A Father Stays a Father, Even in Prison

I believe David Mackenzie couldn’t choose better actor than Jack O’Connell in the role of 19 violent Eric Love, (which is kind of ironic). Indeed, after watching his performance in the TV show Skins and his capacities to burst into uncontrolled anger, Eric Love, who just got into prison couldn’t be more accurately played than by O’Connell.

The film opens with him entering the prison, and going through the usual process, shot with beautiful angles by Mackenzie.

Screen Shot 2014-11-11 at 8.58.27 Screen Shot 2014-11-11 at 9.00.31If the movie starts with a very slow rhythm, it soon took a whole different turn, and overflowing with testosterone, we assist to situation after situation so intense and fast than you arrive at the end where after a climax, everything settles down with a tender landing; you just finished your turn of roller coaster. 

The movie tackles the issue of the father figure, in the setting of a prison, which is even more interesting. We soon learn that Eric got into prison to be with his father Neville (Ben Madelsohn), who went for a long time when his son was still a little boy. With no mum, Eric had a tough childhood. Therefore, we understand his predisposition to violence and it isn’t very surprising.

Well, the captivating element of Starred Up, is the different father figures Eric is confronted to. If his father tries to catch up with him, and tries to do his pater job, the 19 years old, caught the eye of Oliver Baumer (Rupert Friend), the only person of the whole prison who still believe there is hope for violent inmates, and runs a small therapy group, with until now, only black convicts.

Screen Shot 2014-11-11 at 10.10.31To understand Oliver’s dedication; he isn’t payed and decided to help them because he “needs to”. Eric finds not only another protective paternal image, but also “friends” and the movie shows that interracial friendships are possible.

The movie flies over the rapid evolution of the different relationships and the characters that bound and unbound over and over. The director along with screenwriter Jonathan Asser focus and put as the core of the story, the father-son relationship. They highlighted how Eric wants to prove an independence he developed through all those years fatherless, and yet O’Connell emanates a great sensitiveness, of a deep disappointment towards his character’s dad; what Neville did as a freeman, and what he is, now locked up. He merged with his character, and found perfectly how to embody it. It is one of the best performance I’ve seen this past two years.

Screen Shot 2014-11-11 at 9.04.30Starred up, shows the circle of life, the circle that starts with and abandon and finishes with sacrifice. Two shots of rotating doors are taken in the movie supporting the idea. Meaning, what goes around comes around but there is always a way to fix things up, alway a pattern allowing you to prove yourself and always a way to get out of shit. 

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