9/30/2015

Blu-ray Review: In the Name of My Daughter (2014)


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A fascinating, fact-based thriller from director André Téchiné, In the Name of My Daughter charts the suspicious disappearance of young casino heiress Agnès Le Roux which occurred nearly forty years ago in the south of France.

With one eye on land and another on the sea, there’s something transient about the way Adèle Haenel plays Agnès right from the start as someone perpetually restless and ready to leave.

Like a young girl trapped in the body of a mermaid, throughout Daughter, the heiress is compulsively clad in a bathing suit, whether dressed up to the nines for dinner or clinging to her lover on the back of a motorbike. Always eager to out-swim her troubles, minutes after she gets off a plane in one of her earliest scenes, Agnès Le Roux hits the beach.


Arriving in Nice to finalize a divorce, we soon discover that the daughter of casino owner Renée Le Roux (Catherine Deneuve) has returned home with the goal of breaking free. But after forming a fast friendship with her mother's overly ambitious right hand man, fast-talking lawyer Maurice Agnelet (played by Guillaume Canet), Agnès' desire for liberty is quickly replaced by her desire for Maurice.

Considering just how different the two seem, it’s an unlikely pairing to say the least. Citing fear of an ear infection as the reason he refused to swim with her right from the start, Agnès goes out of her way to reel him in, not understanding that she can’t change the mind of a man determined to keep his head above water without running the risk of going under herself.

Heartbroken when Agnès makes it clear that regardless of what is asked of her she'll be siding with Maurice, Renée promptly fires the man she'd long suspected of trying to take over her job.


Completely under the spell of the serial seducer, Agnès finds herself caught in the midst of a three-way battle between not only Renée and Maurice but also her mother's mafia-aligned rival on the verge of taking over Renée's casino.

Yet while in retrospect we feel for the victim and especially her mother who perhaps knew better than anyone that her daughter was headed for a crash (even if no one could expect how much), Téchiné’s film is still bogged down by the selfish nature of its largely unlikable cast of characters.

Having loved and lost and loved again – like a compulsive gambler ejected from the casino that keeps coming back – Agnès remains not only determined but desperate to keep her dwindling hold on Maurice.

Blind to her mother’s struggles and eager to leave the casino behind, Agnès pressures Renée for her father's inheritance in order to open a boutique. Unwilling to wait until things settle down, not to mention unable to see the forest for the trees, Agnès hires Maurice as her lawyer, promptly letting him talk her into a multi-million dollar betrayal that's the equivalent to World War Three.


Although this was a pivotal moment in the real life case, onscreen, this decision occurs much too quickly out of left field and feels as though a vital scene had been left on the cutting room floor.

Holding us at arm's length, even though it's dramatically compelling, Daughter is ultimately missing the kind of insight into the minds of its coolly detached main characters that a stronger support system of friends and confidantes would've been able to provide.

Still despite a few missteps here and there, the dedication of Daughter's dynamic cast – especially Guillaume Canet’s terrifying turn as the man whom Deneuve's desperate mother believes murdered her daughter – help keeps us riveted throughout.

A chilling psychological portrait of emotional abuse that's occasionally a bit too chilly for its own good, in its strongest moments, In the Name of My Daughter feels like a French variation of Theodore Dreiser's An American Tragedy blended with Patricia Highsmith's The Talented Mr. Ripley.
 
 

Of particular interest to viewers in France and Italy who've followed the infamous the case in the news over the past four decades, nonetheless Daughter is the type of film where the less you know going in the better off you'll be.

With this in mind, although the Cohen Films release has been given a gorgeous transfer to Blu-ray high-definition, viewers should be warned not to read the summary included on the back of the box, since it shockingly reveals more than three fourths (or roughly 95 minutes) of the film's overall plot.

An Official Selection at the Cannes Film Festival,while admittedly the film's final act set within the last two decades of the mother's crusade for justice fails to live up to the power and urgency of the rest of the picture, all in all it's well worth tracking down.

Filled with impressive art direction and beautifully shot, In the Name of My Daughter is sure to appeal to amateur sleuths eager to read more about not only the case but also the three trials referenced in the movie's postscript.

While there's enough intrigue in the south of France to have fueled an entire miniseries (especially considering the number of questions we're left with including the role played by the mob) Téchiné’s thriller nonetheless offers viewers a satisfying opportunity to get our feet wet before wandering further into the deep end of its real life mystery.

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Text ©2015, Film Intuition, LLC; All Rights Reserved. http://www.filmintuition.com Unauthorized Reproduction or Publication Elsewhere is Strictly Prohibited and in violation of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act.  FTC Disclosure: Per standard professional practice, I may have received a review copy of this title in order to voluntarily decide to evaluate it for my readers, which had no impact whatsoever on whether or not it received a favorable or unfavorable critique.

9/25/2015

Blu-ray Review: Love & Mercy (2014)


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AKA: Love and Mercy

Like the waves of the ocean that inspired so many of The Beach Boys' earliest hits, Love & Mercy moves back and forth in time between two of the most pivotal decades in the life of its subject Brian Wilson (played by Paul Dano in the 1960s and John Cusack in the 1980s).

As multilayered as one of Wilson's symphonic Pet Sounds compositions that likewise move between multiple time signatures and keys, Tree of Life producer Bill Pohlad's phenomenal true life tale is a wonderful labor of love.


Experimental but still both palatable and accessible to viewers more accustomed to the traditional extended flashback formula often employed in contemporary biopics, while Love & Mercy may indeed "get around" in its chronology, it never wanders out too far off the deep end, learning a valuable lesson from the overly fragmented Bob Dylan opus I'm Not There which was partially penned by Love co-writer Oren Moverman.

Helping to ease the transitions in time by shooting a majority of the earlier sequences on Super 16 millimeter film, frequent Wes Anderson cinematographer Robert Yeoman infuses his '60s set footage with vibrant, nostalgic golden light to shower Wilson with (as he famously sang) "the warmth of the sun."


And since we're missing a good decade of drama, Yeoman's innovative and impressionistic lensing not only emphasizes the changes in Wilson's life but it also serves as a painterly shortcut for the audience. Inviting us to read between the lines of drama left on the cutting room floor, we're struck by the weight of Wilson's offscreen loss and heartbreak through the stark and sudden shift in both color and camera.

Replacing the brilliant glow of loved ones who'd filled his younger years with harmony, music, laughter, love, and sunlight with the harshness of cool blues and white prescription pill hued overcast light makes us acutely aware of the isolation felt by Wilson under the care of a domineering psychiatrist (played by Paul Giamatti) in the 1980s during one of the bluest periods of his life.


However, even though Love & Mercy is centered on Brian Wilson, the surprising heroine of Pohlad's picture is Wilson's then-girlfriend Melinda Ledbetter (beautifully portrayed by Elizabeth Banks) who helped liberate her future husband from his overly controlling doctor/legal guardian.


From one of Love's earliest scenes where the two meet in a Cadillac showroom to their tentative escape from one of the doctor's spies by diving into the same waves he'd sung about decades before, given the role that love played in liberating Wilson, Mercy is thematically on par with the impressive if more traditionally structured Johnny Cash endeavor Walk the Line.

Featuring one of John Cusack's strongest turns in years, although Love & Mercy plays even better to Brian Wilson devotees (myself included) who have a greater frame of reference for details about the composer's past that are only briefly referenced in the film's dialogue, Pohlad's sensitively drawn portrait nonetheless remains one of the best musical biopics that I have seen in quite some time.


Unlike some genre efforts that get so caught up in the drama that the music nearly becomes an afterthought, the filmmakers behind Love & Mercy allow Wilson's creative process to guide some of the film's most inspiring and memorable sequences.

Rather than focus on music video style montages of screaming fans and tour dates or settle for the "a-ha" light bulb moments of brilliance that gave birth to a hit song, Pohlad and Moverman celebrate all aspects of Wilson's musical genius while presenting the soundtrack of The Beach Boys as a vital part of his biography.


Racing to keep up with the music and voices in his mind (that would later lead to a misdiagnosis of schizophrenia), we travel with the gifted Paul Dano's '60s era Wilson from one studio to the next several times per song and watch in awe as he layers impromptu inventions and multiple "pet sounds" on top of one another to result in an endless harmony.

Trying to turn mistakes into instrumental beauty and dissonant noises into sweet melodies, as masterful as the movie is, in the end perhaps Love & Mercy's greatest feat is the way that it enhances our understanding of Brian Wilson's lush pop music symphonies.

   

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Text ©2015, Film Intuition, LLC; All Rights Reserved. http://www.filmintuition.com Unauthorized Reproduction or Publication Elsewhere is Strictly Prohibited and in violation of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act.  FTC Disclosure: Per standard professional practice, I may have received a review copy of this title in order to voluntarily decide to evaluate it for my readers, which had no impact whatsoever on whether or not it received a favorable or unfavorable critique.

TV on DVD Review: Gotham – The Complete First Season (2014-2015)


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Rather than rebuild Gotham from the ground up for 2014's stylish small screen series of the same name, Mentalist mastermind Bruno Heller opted to dig deeper into the origin stories of some of D.C. Comics' most notorious heroes and villains.

Although he initially follows the Batman play-book to the letter in a pilot that is anchored by the shocking murder of Bruce Wayne's parents which leaves the boy orphaned and sets him on the path of becoming the Dark Knight, Heller makes a bold decision to deviate from tradition in a move that both helps and hinders Gotham in equal measure.


For instead of jumping ahead in time to center the series around the adult Bruce Wayne's double life as a wealthy playboy and the caped crusader as expected, Heller breathes much needed new life into the famous franchise for its latest incarnation by promoting Officer Jim Gordon (an excellent Ben McKenzie) to the show's lead.

Working alongside the equally captivating character actor Donal Logue as his cynical partner Harvey Bullock, McKenzie's young idealistic rookie defies the status quo of a historically corrupt police department, eagerly taking down a colorful rogue's gallery of B-villains as the next generation of future A-villains wait impatiently in the wings.


And through McKenzie and Logue's terrific dynamic, Heller establishes what will become a recurring motif in the series of multi-generational partnerships among those on both sides of the law. Fortunately, this technique works extremely well for two of the best and brightest members of the Gotham P.D.

However, the same magic cannot be duplicated in a few of the densely populated show's other unlikely pairings, which is particularly apparent in the first half of the season when we're inundated by so many unlikable characters and the overwhelmingly bleak tone that Gotham begins to wear on our patience.

Moreover with so many double-crosses and shifting alliances, it becomes increasingly difficult to keep everyone straight, especially when formerly vital players are suddenly dropped from Gotham’s storylines as if their scenes were edited out for time and left on the cutting room floor.


And although the behavior of some of Gotham’s secondary characters (including Jim's troubled fiancé Barbara) grows increasingly illogical, the structurally challenged series fortunately finds its footing once again in a gripping final quartet of episodes involving Milo Ventimiglia's horrific Ogre.

Better off developing complex multi-episodic arcs instead of following in the footsteps of an early X-Files "freak of the week" standalone paradigm that does little to advance the overall storyline, as the seeds are planted for the future, Gotham's exceedingly well-researched writing staff begin to exude confidence in the season's stronger second half.

Soon enough, new threats emerge from the shadows – some of whom rise to power while others fall from grace.

Carving out clever new backstories for fan favorite characters like Edward Nygma (a.k.a. The Riddler, played by Cory Michael Smith), Gotham is at its best when it employs foreshadowing so subtle that if we weren’t aware of the impressive minds working behind the scenes, we’d swear it was accidental.


Undoubtedly challenged by an overly padded twenty-two episode season that was extended after it had already begun, at times the tonally uneven Gotham swings like a pendulum from over-the-top gross-out violence to darkly comedic camp.

Caught between a variety of genres and audience brackets, while some of the coming-of-age arcs for the younger cast members lag in comparison the show’s grittier crime elements, the uniformly excellent and refreshingly diverse cast of all ages, races, and faces (including terrific newcomers like Robin Lord Taylor, Camren Bicondova, and David Mazouz) help keep us riveted.

Along with McKenzie and Logue, season one's MVPs also include the versatile Morena Baccarin as Jim Gordon's lady doctor love Leslie Thompkins, scene-stealer Jada Pinkett Smith as notorious villainess (and Penguin's former mentor turned nemesis) Fish Mooney, as well as a refreshingly bad ass version of butler Alfred Pennyworth played by Sean Pertwee.


An artistically sumptuous series, Heller's show is filled with texture and sparkle in its jaw-droppingly inventive costume and set design.

Set in an indeterminate period of time, while Gotham owes perhaps the biggest debt of gratitude to Tim Burton's two breakout Batman pictures based on Frank Miller's comics, it's also indicative of the best parts of other franchise favorites.

A TV series that’s cinematic in scope, from Graeme Revell’s thrilling score to the freewheeling creativity on display in the luminous cinematography bathed in the silvery, gunmetal gray moonlight of a dark night sky, Gotham follows through on the recipe of something old, something new, something borrowed,and something blue.


Along the way, the screen is filled with old world Italian gangsters that might as well have wandered off the Warner Brothers lot in the 1930s and '40s working alongside Hammer horror style villains sure to terrify young viewers.

And although the Gotham City Police Department resembles a more chaotic version of Grand Central Station, Logue and McKenzie's Serpico meets French Connection style '70s antihero antihero leads do their best to keep things moving in the right direction without a Bat-signal to save the day.


A character driven superhero spinoff that's steeped in richly extensive D.C. Comic mythology, only time will tell if viewers will tune in long enough to see Bruce Wayne take his place as Gotham’s dark night somewhere down the line.

Yet even though Heller didn't exactly reinvent the wheel, putting Batman on the back burner and ignoring the well-traveled terrain undertaken by the Batmobile in previous productions forced him to look beyond all of the caped crusader's wonderful toys and try something new.

Knowing that there’s much more to an origin story than a mere prologue, even though it falls short from time to time, Gotham proves that there's more than one way to reboot a series – using present day Batman mythology as the jumping off point to delve deeper into the past.

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Text ©2015, Film Intuition, LLC; All Rights Reserved. http://www.filmintuition.com Unauthorized Reproduction or Publication Elsewhere is Strictly Prohibited and in violation of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act.  FTC Disclosure: Per standard professional practice, I may have received a review copy of this title in order to voluntarily decide to evaluate it for my readers, which had no impact whatsoever on whether or not it received a favorable or unfavorable critique.