"Upstream Color" starts with a couple of guys discovering slugs that… More"Upstream Color" starts with a couple of guys discovering slugs that allow them to share minds. That biotechnology falls into the wrong hands(Thiago Martins). He first tries to introduce them via a drug in a nightclub before falling back onto plan b which involves tasering Kris(Amy Seimetz) and dragging her outside into the rain, where he forcibly injects one into her. Hypnotically, he proceeds to clear out her bank account and rare coin collection before leaving. Kris awakens to an audio signal from an engineer(Andrew Sensenig) who leaves her in her car on a highway median with no memory of what happened.
Instead of using physics, Shane Carruth(who also co-stars) uses biology this time around in "Upstream Color" to not only play with viewers' heads but also to literally get under their skin.(What next? Chemistry?) Without explaining much of anything, he looks at how two people try to put their lives back together after losing everything and being violated in such a way. That having been said, sometimes it seems like the pigs have the more compelling storyline. Plus, Carruth is at his best when he is being ambiguous, not when he is trying so hard to connect the dots to tie everything neatly up. And I don't see how "Walden" works into the larger narrative, such as it is, when any book would have sufficed, even "The Little Prince" which actually would have been kind of funny.
Germain(Fabrice Luchini) is a high school literature teacher who… MoreGermain(Fabrice Luchini) is a high school literature teacher who despite the new uniforms, has little hope for his students. That changes when he reads an assignment from Claude(Ernst Umhauer) about the weekend that he spent at his friend Rapha's(Bastien Ughetto) house. It is so good that even his wife Jeanne(Kristin Scott Thomas), an art gallery manager, admires his turn of phrase, even if they feel he might be getting ahead of himself there. That turns to anticipation when Claude delivers a sequel for his next assignment.
At first, "In the House" might seem like just another one of Francois Ozon's domestic intruder movies. Except here, Claude is more passive observer, allowing Ozon to depict events with a lighter, if still provocative touch.(Whether Ozon mellowing is a good sign or a sign of the apocalypse is up for debate.) Even then, Claude still affects the lives of those around him, all of which including himself are missing something valuable from their lives. That's where fiction, with the particularly intoxicating addiction of serialization mixed in, can serve as a distraction from their otherwise troubled lives. That all happens amongst all the literary references, of which I am wondering if the revelation of Germain's full name is supposed to be part of.
"Last Exit to Brooklyn" starts out with a group of soldiers impugning… More"Last Exit to Brooklyn" starts out with a group of soldiers impugning the honor of Tralala(Jennifer Jason Leigh), followed by the predictable beatdown by some of her friends. To be fair, not only is she a prostitute, but one who also helps to fleece some of her customers. To be honest, times are tough all over in 1952 Brooklyn with the strike going on which probably does not make it the best time for Big Joe(Burt Young) to learn his daughter Donna(Ricki Lake) is pregnant with Tommy's(John Costelloe) baby. Maybe they were just looking for love which is why Georgette(Alexis Arquette) is looking for Vincent(Peter Dobson).
As watchable as it is, "Last Exit to Brooklyn" is also very much an odd duck, taking Hubert Selby's novel of down and out Brooklyn life in the 1950's and showing it through a European prism. So, even with an American cast that includes Jerry Orbach and a couple of stunning set pieces, it still feels a little off. On the one hand, the movie desperately wants to be provocative in its use of sex and violence. While it might also seem it is about loss of innocence, it is only in perception, like Big Joe not being aware that his daughter is not a virgin, much less very pregnant. Or maybe this is how it really was, except no police have ever responded to a call that quickly.
As one of the top rock stars around, Rose(Bette Midler) is starting to… MoreAs one of the top rock stars around, Rose(Bette Midler) is starting to feel the strain which is not helped by her copious drinking. At least, she has stopped using drugs. So, she wants to take a year off after the upcoming hometown concert in Florida but her manager/promoter Rudge(Alan Bates) reminds her of all the money she will lose if she does. At least, she gets to meet one of idols, Billy Ray(Harry Dean Stanton), after a concert but the meeting goes so badly, she runs away and jumps in the first car, driven by Huston(Frederic Forrest).
Even as it is too long and a little ragged around the edges like its protagonist, "The Rose" has Bette Midler's fearless and astounding performance going for it which is enough to get it through the night. Plus, there are the entertaining musical numbers and a lovely late long shot of a lighted phone booth framed against the darkness. And the movie is surprisingly gay friendly with its night club full of drag queens(one of the highlights of the film), a kiss edited out of the film and perhaps the most chaste bath house in the history of New York City. I heard this was inspired by the life of Janis Joplin but I want to remain ignorant on that note, so I can judge this movie on its own merits. What I can say is it does not go the route of the cliched self-destructive rock star and instead focuses on Rose's insecurities which simultaneously drive and destroy her, with a manager who does not have her best interests at heart.
In "French Film," struggling with the preparation for an interview… MoreIn "French Film," struggling with the preparation for an interview with noted film director Thierry Grimandi(Eric Cantona) is the least of Jed's(Hugh Bonneville) problems as his ten-year relationship with Cheryl(Victoria Hamilton) has just taken a turn for the worse recently when she turned down his marriage proposal. So, they are now in couples counseling. At least, their friends Marcus(Douglas Henshall) and Sophie(Anne-Marie Duff) are doing much better, even with the threat of a bit of Marcus' past returning back into his life.
"French Film" is an amiable enough movie with a likable cast(it's nice to see Douglas Henshall smile for a change) that barely acknowledges an incident that could be thought of as emotional rape which dwarfs any discussion of journalistic ethics. Otherwise, the movie resembles a Woody Allen film (or Woody Allen doing European films) more than the French films it seems to be commenting on. A large part of that involves separating the fiction from the reality in a relationship as the movie makes a great case for it not being important how two people meet("Scandal" has the exception to this rule) but rather how much they love each other.(The movie implies that there is something seriously wrong in Jed's waiting 10 years to propose whereas it could have just been a case of not wanting to wreck a good thing.) For example, most of the significant people I have known in my life I have met in incredibly insignificant ways.
Say what you will about the long intrusive lines at customs these… MoreSay what you will about the long intrusive lines at customs these days, but you've probably never had a gun pulled on you like Arjan van Diemen(Ray Winstone) does when he tries to enter New Zealand from South Africa after the Boer War in 1903. And it has less to do with the rifle he is carrying than the long memories of the British soldiers he fought in a dirty war. Still, Major Carlysle(Gareth Reeves) allows him to enter the country, even providing a bit of work in using his tracking skills to find Kereama(Temuera Morrison), a Maori, unjustly accused of murder. The reward is 100 sovereigns alive, 25 sovereigns dead.
At first, "Tracker" might seem like a lot of other movies that have come before it with apparently Ray Winstone playing another one of his patented scary badasses. But as time goes on, his excellent performance uncovers previously unseen layers to his character.(And why nobody had thought of casting Winstone as a protagonist in a western before this, I have no idea.) Even Carlysle tries to do his best for everybody concerned. And while we have seen plenty of the beautiful New Zealand scenery before in "Lord of the Rings" and the bughouse "Top of the Lake," what we are exposed to here is the less familiar brutal history of not only that country, but also that of the Boer Wars, both involving people on the wrong end of the mighty British Empire.(I love van Diemen saying he traveled to New Zealand out of curiosity of the British.) All of which adds depth to this already thoughtful and compelling story. And on a very, very minor note, I would have preferred this movie be called "75 Sovereigns."
Albert Nobbs(Glenn Close, who also co-wrote the screenplay) works as a… MoreAlbert Nobbs(Glenn Close, who also co-wrote the screenplay) works as a butler at Morrison's Hotel in Dublin which is managed by Mrs. Baker(Pauline Collins). Summarily dismissed in his last job, Joe Mackins(Aaron Johnson) bluffs his way to a job there by claiming to know his way around a boiler. Hubert Page(Janet McTeer) definitely knows what he is talking about as a handyman, but Albert balks when Hubert is assigned to share his bed for a night as Hubert discovers that Albert is in reality a woman. Then, Hubert makes it perfectly clear to Albert that he is not alone...
So, what do you do with a movie like "Albert Nobbs?" It is a nice enough movie about dreams, even if it is kind of slow. Even worse, it also suffers from a terminal lack of ambition, as it cannot even be bothered to tackle sexual ignorance in Victorian Dublin. Look, I am not asking for a steampunk adventure involving a six foot tall female lizard and her maid(at least, not here) but anything more significant than the usual life of quiet desperation would have been neat. In fact, there were times when I had serious doubts about Albert Nobbs being the central character, as Hubert definitely seems to have the more interesting life. Part of which might have to do with Glenn Close being overshadowed by the rest of the cast, especially Janet McTeer who is simply tremendous.
"We Were Here" is a simple, yet powerfully effective documentary… More"We Were Here" is a simple, yet powerfully effective documentary history of the AIDS epidemic in San Francisco that creates a clear timeline of events, running from first rumors through effective treatment. This is told by a handful of survivors and eyewitnesses in their own words, recalling lost friends and loved ones, thus bringing such momentous events down to a deeply personal level. And the archival footage and photographs work well in tandem with this. Of particular interest is the valuable work of the lesbian community during the epidemic, previously a lesser partner in the larger gay community, rising to the occasion in more ways than one.(Correct me if I'm wrong but I think this was only glanced over in "And the Band Played On" by Randy Shilts.)
"The Place Beyond the Pines" starts with Luke(Ryan Gosling), a stunt… More"The Place Beyond the Pines" starts with Luke(Ryan Gosling), a stunt cyclist with a traveling carnival, hooking up with Romina(Eva Mendes) when he is in Schenectady, New York. A year later, he returns to find her having given birth to his son and living with Kofi(Mahershala Ali). That having been said, Luke still wants to take care of his kid, getting a job with Robin(Ben Mendelsohn) as a mechanic. When that does not provide sufficient funds, Luke takes up Robin's suggestion to rob banks.
"The Place Beyond the Pines" shows a marked improvement for filmmaker Derek Cianfrance after his seriously flawed "Blue Valentine." This time around, he displays an excellent capability with the camera, especially during chase and action sequences. As far as drama goes, it would be tempting to suggest that everybody would have been better off if Luke had simply left town right away and not come back but this morally complex movie will have none of it as he definitely means well, seeking to correct the mistakes of his own tragic past. All that proves is that the road to hell that is paved with good intentions has an off-ramp to Schenectady. Sadly, after a stunning a paradigm shift between the first and second acts, Cianfrance gets his finger caught in the bow that he tries to neatly gift wrap all of the various plotlines with during the contrived third act.
The "Company You Keep" starts with Sharon Solarz(Susan Sarandon) being… MoreThe "Company You Keep" starts with Sharon Solarz(Susan Sarandon) being arrested by an FBI team led by agent Cornelius(Terrence Howard) for a decades old bank robbery and murder. Albany Times Union reporter Ben Shepard(Shia LaBeouf) connects the dots to Billy Cusimano(Stephen Root), a local businessman, who leads him to Jim Grant(Robert Redford, who also directed), a public interest lawyer, widower and father to 11-year old Isabel(Jackie Evancho). When Shepard confronts him about his refusal to represent Solarz, Grant refuses to comment. What he is willing to do instead is make a break for it with Isabel, before the temperature gets any hotter.
While a little judicious editing would have done wonders, especially with the anti-climactic ending, "The Company You Keep" does have a once in a lifetime cast that always keeps things interesting, even if the story does not do the same.(It would take less time to list who is not in the movie than who is.) Overall, that allows for different perspectives on the same events. Specifically and surprisingly, Shia LaBeouf holds his own, at least until Brit Marling shows up on the screen and right before Richard Jenkins gives Robert Redford acting lessons.
As far as issues go, the movie is less interested in politics than the current state of the newspaper business, often crossing the line between trying to impart knowledge and haranguing.(I'm still trying to decide how ironic the ubiquitous product placement is supposed to be.) A lot of the target of this is Shepard, as he tracks down the story and collects the facts. But isn't that what he is supposed to be doing as a reporter?