5/25/2018

Movie Review: Miss Stevens (2016)


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Similar to the way that a gun shown to viewers in the first half of her terrifically thought-provoking feminist western The Keeping Room is bound to go off in the last, screenwriter turned director Julia Hart draws upon her love of subtext and symbolism once again in her contemporary-set character study Miss Stevens.  

Inspired by the years she spent working as a high school teacher, the film – penned by Hart and her husband, producer and co-scripter Jordan Horowitz – is tailor-made for its charismatic lead, frequent American Horror Story lead Lily Rabe (daughter of the late, great actress Jill Clayburgh).

A well-deserved recipient of a South by Southwest Best Actress Award for her eponymous turn as a high school English teacher in the midst of an existential crisis who's been tasked with chaperoning three students to a young dramatists competition for a weekend out-of-town, in the film's initially ambiguous opening scene, Rabe's teary face fills the screen.

Seemingly on autopilot, by the next time see her in front of a classroom, Miss Stevens is in full teacher mode, asking her students to find some individual semblance of meaning in what they've read in order to make it their own.


And it's in this moment when we understand that, much like the gun in Hart's western predecessor or the temporary fix of a spare tire put on Miss Stevens' car shortly into the movie, it's only a matter of time before she'll have to take her own teacherly advice and look for meaning in order to repair what's needed in her own life for good.

Steeped in authenticity, Hart's aforementioned classroom scene is so richly detailed that you can practically smell the chalk dust and sense the lingering, palpable apathy of its clock-watching students. Needless to say, viewers who’ve worked in schools (like me) are sure to relate to Miss Stevens on a cellular level.

Reminiscent of a long lost Fox Searchlight picture from that company’s heyday of dysfunctional dramedies in the mid-aughts, although it’s a relative in spirit to Little Miss Sunshine (by way of The Breakfast Club), Miss Stevens would also pair nicely with Jason Reitman and Diablo Cody’s Juno and Young Adult as tonally it lands somewhere in between the two.

Light on plot and heavy on mood, although each distinct character has their own point of view, aside from the remarkably talented yet troubled Billy (played to perfection by scene-stealer and future Call Me By Your Name Oscar nominee Timothee Chalamet), unfortunately we're given very little information about the rest of the students, which makes them hard to fully relate to or get to know.


Yet despite this missing component, the behavior of Billy's classmates (well played by Riverdale's Lili Reinhart and Anthony Quintal) still rings true, which is an impressive feat in its own right. Credit should be given to the film’s screenwriters not only for that but also for refusing to push the relationship between the teacher and Billy (who’s nursing a major crush on Stevens) into salacious, cliched, and sadly all too familiar Cinemax territory.

A far cry from typical depictions of older powerful men and worshipful Lolita-like young vixens, in a gender-flipped twist, Miss Stevens reminds us of just what a vital difference a male vs. female gaze can make when a woman is given the chance to tell her own story and direct it.

And while I can't help but wonder how much stronger Stevens would’ve been with a slightly more expanded point-of-view to elevate the two other students beyond one-sentence descriptions in subplots of their very own, the film's small budget was most likely its Achilles heel.

Although it suffers slightly from a rushed and admittedly contrived (though nonetheless charming) final act, the humanistic commitment shown to Miss Stevens’ characters by its cast and crew are as moving and meaningful as any competitive monologue can be. In the end, the teacher was right after all – symbolic actions speak louder than these highly verbal students’ words and there's enough meaning in that for me.

Text ©2018, 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 or screener link 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. Cookies Notice: This site incorporates tools (including advertiser partners and widgets) that use cookies and may collect some personal information in order to display ads tailored to you etc. Please be advised that neither Film Intuition nor its site owner has any access to this data beyond general site statistics (geographical region etc.) as your privacy is our main concern.

Olive Films Blu-ray Review: Friday Foster (1975)


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A passable B-movie, although it's decidedly less well known than Foxy Brown, Coffy and/or some of the other entertaining albeit exploitative American International Pictures (AIP) efforts from the studio that made them with assembly line like efficiency, Friday Foster still marks a worthwhile final hurrah for actress Pam Grier and the production house which made her a star.

Based on the first comic strip to not only feature but revolve around an African American woman in the lead role via author Jim Lawrence and illustrator Jorge Longaron's eponymous syndicated Chicago Tribune endeavor which ran from 1970-1974, the last thing 1975's Friday Foster suffers from is a lack of material.


Yet unsure whether to make an action movie, thriller, romance, chase film, or comedy, writer/director Arthur Marks decided to go with a one size fits all approach.

Asking those on both sides of the screen to juggle a handful of subplots and twice as many characters before we've even reached the end of the first act, soon enough the briskly paced yet tonally uneven 90 minute feature morphs into an illogical three ring circus that even the unflappable Grier cannot save.

Still the overly ambitious script is the least of Foster's worries as Marks' head-scratching direction and Stanley Frazen's bizarre editing magnify the picture's flaws all the more.


Swinging like a pendulum from one extreme to another, Friday's problems are perhaps best epitomized by a scene where Grier (naked yet still in full makeup and jewelry) takes a seductive shower mere seconds after witnessing the murder of a good friend in one of the film's campiest juxtapositions.

I'll say this for the movie; it undoubtedly helped sharpen the actors' poker faces. But it's a damn shame since Grier is well-suited to the titular role as former model turned photojournalist Friday Foster.

Refreshingly relying on her talent, brains, and charm to uncover a vast political conspiracy, Grier's Friday turn is in stark contrast to the vengeance fueled "badass chick" parts the then-typecast actress had played in American International's earlier '70s fare up until that point.


Working well with an all-star talent roster including Eartha Kitt, Scatman Crothers, Carl Weathers, and a scene-stealing Yaphet Kotto, given the years of comic strip material to cull from and Friday Foster's capable cast, it's unfortunate that Marks couldn't have offered his leading lady (and her legions of fans) something worthier of her talents.

Released on disc from Olive Films alongside some of her biggest AIP hits, the now over forty year old film has been given a flawless transfer to high definition Blu-ray. Paying tribute to the vintage 1975 poster and ad campaign (complete with retro box art highlighting the original tagline of "Wham! Bam! Here Comes Pam!"), the movie looks and sounds like dream, easily getting its disco title theme stuck in your head as it fires out of every speaker, showering over you Studio 54 style in 5.1 surround sound.


Less stellar than entertainingly tongue-in-cheek, Friday Foster is still worth checking out, not only as a forgotten Grier feature that could easily be remade for the better but also as the one that – for better and worse – placed a greater emphasis on smiling, brainy Pam in a long overdue lead role than "Wham! Bam! Action Pam."


Text ©2018, 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 or screener link 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. Cookies Notice: This site incorporates tools (including advertiser partners and widgets) that use cookies and may collect some personal information in order to display ads tailored to you etc. Please be advised that neither Film Intuition nor its site owner has any access to this data beyond general site statistics (geographical region etc.) as your privacy is our main concern.

Movie Review: Beauty Mark (2017)


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Hoping to shield her three year old son (Jameson Fowler) and perpetually drunk or high mother (Catherine Curtin) from a power outage as well as Louisville's unforgiving heat, twenty-four year old Angie (Auden Thornton) covers their sleeping bodies with cool towels before she leaves for work in one of Beauty Mark's earliest scenes.

Subtle, effective, and impressive in its simplicity, within the first five minutes of his feature filmmaking debut, writer/director Harris Doran tells us exactly who his main character is and what's important to her without using a single line of dialogue while likewise establishing the first of many filmic metaphors to come.

Dubbed “a fire waiting to happen,” after Angie's black-mold filled home is finally condemned, she learns she can't ignore what's right in front of her eyes or shield her family from the outside world for long.


Given mere days to find someone to take them in or scrape together seventeen hundred dollars for a new rental, Angie's external dilemma soon collides with the internal one that Doran had begun to foreshadow early on.

Desperate and out of options, as just one of at least a handful of Sunday School students whom she can recall being abused by an important member of their church, Angie decides to confront first her current pastor (The Wire's Deidre Lovejoy) and then a lawyer with the goal to sue before she learns that she's one year beyond the statute of limitations.

Urged by her lawyer to gather evidence or find younger victims to join her case, Angie goes on the hunt – looking for both additional victims and sources of income to solve her housing problem before she discovers the inevitable place that they intersect happens to be at her abuser's door.


A searing slice-of-life indie inspired by a true story and filmed in a gritty docudrama style a la Woman Under the Influence era John Cassavetes, Beauty Mark is far more successful when it follows the natural actions of its characters (as in its opening sequence) than when it forces them down a contrived path in order to make a point.

Reminiscent in topic, tone, and approach to Niki Caro's North Country, like North CountryBeauty Mark bites off more than it can chew. An unflinching depiction of not only the vicious cycle and lasting impact of child abuse, Beauty Mark also touches on addiction, racism, religious hypocrisy, and poverty, which is a whole lot of issues to attempt to do justice to squeezed into an eighty-seven minute running time. And along the way it drops several plot strands that could've been woven together into a stronger and less episodic whole.

Despite the very best of intentions of its talented cast and crew, Beauty Mark's fierce commitment to realism drives the narrative toward a muddled final act that at times (again following in North Country's footsteps) borders on exploitative melodrama.

Featuring a firecracker performance from Auden Thornton that recalls the breakout work of Jennifer Lawrence in Winter's Bone and Brie Larson in Room, much like the way that Angie's home is filled with love and mold, this festival award-winner is a veritable passion project in the best and worst sense of the term.

A strong first effort from Film Independent Spirit Awards Someone to Watch nominee Harris Doran (who we can tell right from the start has worlds of stories left to explore), even when it doesn't work, Beauty definitely leaves a mark.


Text ©2018, 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 or screener link 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. Cookies Notice: This site incorporates tools (including advertiser partners and widgets) that use cookies and may collect some personal information in order to display ads tailored to you etc. Please be advised that neither Film Intuition nor its site owner has any access to this data beyond general site statistics (geographical region etc.) as your privacy is our main concern.

5/21/2018

Book Review: The High Season by Judy Blundell

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You can practically feel the sunlight pouring off the pages of The High Season, which, thanks to National Book Award Winner Judy Blundell's lyrical and painterly prose, is as picturesque as the summery Long Island beach house where the novel's action is set.

Told from the points-of-view of multiple characters, the instantly compelling book introduces us to the local residents and seasonal visitors of a beautiful beach community that's big enough to enjoy but small enough that secrets don't stay that way for long as its inhabitants soon find out.

Although it's made fiscal sense, renting their gorgeous home every summer in order to afford to live in it during the rest of the year has begun to wear on our main protagonist, museum director Ruthie Dutton and her fifteen-year-old daughter Jem.

Renovating a perfect beach house only to need to leave it during its peak season has been a leading cause of the breakdown of her marriage to Mike, with whom she's still on excellent terms, and even though the mature Jem puts up a good front, Ruthie hates the idea of uprooting her each summer.

And when her latest renter makes herself home a little too quickly – setting her sights on Mike, her friends, and possibly a permanent place in North Fork – Ruthie finds herself at war, especially after the renter's college aged stepson takes an interest in Jem, and nonprofit art world politics threaten her livelihood.

Breaking down the action on several fronts, we're also introduced to Ruthie's enigmatic young coworker Doe who's perfected the art of blending in anywhere and with anyone and it's in Doe's chapters that Blundell and the reader has the most fun as she gently satirizes the rich. 

The first book the author has penned exclusively for adults, admittedly there are times when The High Season's older characters (especially Ruthie) act more immature than their younger counterparts do in incongruous scenes that hinders their relatability.

A gifted stylist, however, Blundell doesn't lose us for long. As high stakes subplots begin to collide, the book rebounds from a slightly muddled middle act – delivering a final hundred pages you'll fly right through just as fast as this entertaining read flies off shelves this summer.


Text ©2018, 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 received a review copy of this title through Bookish First 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.

5/18/2018

Movie Review: Beast (2018)


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Think of this as the flip side of The Shape of Water. One the most unusual films released so far in 2018, Beast is also one we won't soon forget.

Set on the gorgeously lush wood, cliff, and edge filled channel island of Jersey where you can run but you can't hide, the first feature-length effort from BAFTA nominated writer/director Michael Pearce is a heady mixture of Gothic realism, fairy tales, and '60s French movies.

And right from the start of Pearce's seven year in the works passion project we feel the influence of early Truffaut, Chabrol, along with Knife in the Water era Polanski when cinematographer Benjamin Kracun's wild, constantly moving camera makes its way to multiple shrines which have been erected to remember the places where young girls of Jersey have lost their lives.

Breaking the reverie of island beauty, we not only realize that a killer is on the loose but as a matter of course also begin to suspect everyone in sight. And the paranoiac tension that follows goes a long way toward getting us to the right frame of mind to meet Jessie Buckley's enigmatic twenty-seven year old main character, Moll.


Although she conveniently uses the excuse that she still lives at home to help care for her aging father, we quickly find that there's much more going on with Moll (and her family) than meets the eye. And this becomes truer than ever once enough breadcrumbs have been dropped for us to uncover a violent incident in Moll's past that occurred when she'd been roughly the same age as the girls of Jersey's countryside who lost their lives.

Add to the mix a menacing Geraldine James as a mother who uses her history of emotional unrest to exert a choke-hold on her daughter and a sister who selects Moll's birthday as the perfect time to make a huge personal announcement and it's easy to see why Moll runs off into the night.

In borrowing some of the film's key elements from Little Red Riding Hood among other fairy tales, our redheaded heroine is soon rescued from a would-be attacker by Pascal (Johnny Flynn), a handsome huntsman whom she's quick to not only bond with but cover for at a checkpoint, despite the fact that each recognizes the other is either withholding info or telling a lie.

But it's merely the first sign of a new rebellion that begins to take hold for Moll. Tired of living life like the killer whales of her childhood obsession who – as she revealed in an introductory voice-over – must always keep smiling or risk insanity, once Moll meets Pascal, she starts testing the tether of her family's leash and gives up that fake smile.


Gradually moving further away from the life she's always known to be with the wild stranger who saved her life, after yet another girl is found dead and Pascal becomes the number one suspect, Moll is forced to ask herself just who it is she can really trust (herself included) and how much.

Nobly avoiding easy answers, in an intelligent, psychologically gripping narrative, Pearce gives us the opportunity to watch events unfold through Moll’s eyes while at the same time making sure we're completely aware our leading lady is nothing if not an unreliable narrator.

And in an even more intriguing twist, once she revisits the gaps that exist within her own memories as well as her own history and tendency toward violence, Moll questions her own culpability – almost more than she does with Pascal.


Reminiscent in spirit to Heavenly Creatures, thanks to a commanding, feral performance by Jessie Buckley whose scenes with the equally magnetic Flynn are filled with goosebump inducing energy, Pearce's sophisticated Beast adds a much needed female charge to the character driven thriller genre.

An auspicious feature filmmaking debut in the same vein as Blue Ruin and Cold in July, similar to the way that it ratchets up tension, Pearce's sleeper is sure to attract more attention as the year progresses when we discover that – much like last year’s Shape of Water – there aren't too many fish, beasts, killer whales, or Gothic fairy tales like this in the sea.


Text ©2018, 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 or screener link 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.

Movie Review: On Chesil Beach (2017)


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In what most screenwriter’s hands would be considered a mere throwaway line, On Chesil Beach begins with Edward Mayhew (Billy Howle) lovingly calling his brand new bride Florence (Saoirse Ronan) “the squarest person in all of western civilization” for describing the music of Chuck Berry as “bouncy and merry.”

Yet centered around a sensitive young couple whose marriage implodes mere hours into their honeymoon, that line and all aspects of it – penned by screenwriter Ian McEwan in a terrific adaptation of his titular novel – will come back to haunt us in a number of ways from literal to metaphorical to filmic and sonic long before the picture is over.


True for all of us but doubly so when it comes to a classically trained violinist and her pop music loving beau, it’s hard for love to survive when you just don't hear the same notes, in spite of the obvious (if awkward) affection on display in Chesil's lengthy first act which takes place inside a small, dimly lit, seaside hotel room.

For in addition to being out of tune with themselves and each other, we're also given the impression that the two were born a decade too soon which is mirrored by the rich production design of a 1962 set work deliberately made to resemble something closer to 1952.


Breaking up the theatricality of the opening sequence with some masterful flashbacks that show us just what first time feature director Dominic Cooke is capable of when he allows the slightly stagy film to move and breathe, we're given scores of scenes that reinforce Edward and Florence's need to communicate well and be heard, especially when they don't know what they want to say.

Along with snapshots of family dysfunction that run the emotional gamut and are wonderfully acted by supporting players including Emily Watson and Anne-Marie Duff, we're shown a few that revisit McEwan's musical motif beautifully.


Almost midway through On Chesil Beach, we as viewers are taken up through the inside of a piano to see Florence wordlessly turning pages of sheet music for someone else before being given more agency in another – urging a fellow musician to play the notes “tender like a question.”

Then we understand that although it's the former Florence we meet at the beginning of the movie, it's the latter one she wishes to be as she and Edward approach physical intimacy. And once these thoughts and actions collide, Chesil becomes a heartbreaking reminder of how tragic miscommunication can be.


Ironically published back in 2007 when Ronan made her Oscar nominated breakthrough starring in Joe Wright's adaptation of the author's AtonementOn Chesil Beach is based on McEwan's roughly 40,000 page novel which was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize.

Though static and a tad too restrained in the film's earliest scenes which resemble a cross between director George Roy Hill's Period of Adjustment and the Tennessee Williams stage-play upon which the 1962 film was based, Cooke's work grows more potent as it continues.


Featuring what's sure to be one of the best soundtracks of the year from BAFTA and Ivor Novello award-winning composer Dan Jones, On Chesil Beach is filled with the romantic sounds of Haydn, Beethoven, and Schubert violin solos performed by twenty-three year old American virtuoso Esther Yoo, which offer even greater insight into our characters when words (or notes) fail them.

And while it'll be hard to persuade audiences looking for a romantic date movie to queue up for McEwan's honeymoon breakup film, somehow in the hands of this talented cast and crew, it becomes an infinitely swoon-worthy, stylistically '70s picture adjacent reminder of what could've been for Florence and Edward – two time travelers, ever-drifting in and out of time – who just never seem to be in rhythm.



Text ©2018, 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 or screener link 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.

5/11/2018

Blu-ray Review: La Belle Noiseuse (1991)


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Translated Title: The Beautiful Troublemaker

From Godard to Chabrol to Resnais, Demy, Rohmer and beyond, even though they were famously inspired by American filmmakers, as their varied output illustrates, the directors of the French New Wave were also regularly influenced by one another – not only during the movement's late '50s and '60s heyday but for the rest of their careers as well.

Thus similar to the way that the question posed by François Truffaut of whether art – or rather cinema – is "more important than life" fueled some of the filmmaker's strongest work, that very same query is at the forefront of La Belle Noiseuse, the 1991 Cannes Grand Prix winning feature from Truffaut's friend, fellow Cahiers du Cinema critic turned French New Wave co-founder Jacques Rivette.


A 238 minute exploration of an artist and his muse, the long takes and static shots of La Belle Noiseuse are a far cry from the average 12 second shots of 1961’s Paris Belongs to Us, the film that first put Rivette on the map which had been shot in 1958 and released after the early New Wave successes of Godard and Truffaut.

Teaming up once again with screenwriters Pascal Bonitzer and Christine Laurent (as well as longtime married collaborators – editor Nicole and cinematographer William Lubtchansky) to create what Roger Ebert described in his Great Movies 3 essay as “the best film I have ever seen about the physical creation of art,” Noiseuse is a work that Rivette had been building toward for decades.


Fittingly for a four hour film, La Belle Noiseuse is a very loose adaptation of Honoré de Balzac’s short story, The Unknown Masterpiece along with a trio of Henry James shorts including The Figure in the Carpet, The Liar, and The Aspen Papers.

But perhaps in an attempt to celebrate the interchangeable impact of all the arts, Rivette's opus also culls inspiration from the music of Igor Stravinsky which is used sparingly throughout his otherwise largely silent film – save for the sounds of art in progress which Noiseuse uses to loudly cacophonous, almost violent effect.


Deceptively simplistic, both stylistically as well as in its set-up, although the film consists of roughly six characters from start to finish, it primarily revolves around half that number of individuals.

Traveling the French countryside with her artist boyfriend, Nicolas (David Bursztein), we’re first introduced to the film’s muse Marianne (played by Tom Cruise’s first Mission: Impossible love interest, Emmanuel Béart).

Following a fun, flirtatious scene between the young lovers after Marianne playfully interrupts her boyfriend's art with the sounds of a Polaroid camera clicked from above, an art dealer friend (played by Gilles Arbona) drives down, eager to introduce the couple to Edouard and Liz Frenhofer (Michel Piccoli and Jane Birkin), a famous reclusive painter and his wife.


But upon their arrival at the artist's chateau in rural Languedoc-Roussillon, the trio initially find themselves stood up by the moody painter known as Frenhofer to everyone but his wife. Nearly playing an adult game of hide and seek, they wander through the art and literature filled rooms of the gorgeous household alongside his apologetic, friendly wife until at last Frenhofer simply appears.

Using the Hitchcockian trick of withholding an introduction or revelation until the last possible moment for maximum impact, both the artist's nonchalance as well as the length of time we've waited for his entrance goes a long way in making the viewer as curious about the man we're going to meet as the rest of the characters.


After an evening of not only talking about the masterpiece that’s always eluded him but also finding himself increasingly drawn to Marianne (which is wonderfully and subtly foreshadowed care of intriguing angles and frames by Rivette and the Lubtchanskys), the aging artist suddenly finds himself inspired to paint again after a dry spell of ten years.

Picking up on his cue, once the younger artist impulsively volunteers his girlfriend to pose for his idol, the deal is struck. And although it comes as a complete surprise to Marianne after she's informed of her boyfriend's promise once they return to their hotel, in spite of her anger she decides to keep up her end of the bargain, knowing full well she’ll be expected to pose nude.


Beginning their first session slowly by preparing his tools and the entire barn converted studio to get back into his artistic rhythm, Frenhofer treats his muse politely at first before he eventually stops seeing Marianne as a stranger let alone a woman but a body of textures and shapes – pushing and pulling her into poses that are increasingly impossible to hold.

It's here that Truffaut's question of cinema vs. life begins to reign supreme and even though Rivette is capturing it in a different art form, the relationship between Frenhofer and his muse could easily serve as a metaphor for directors and actresses as well, inspiring plenty of essays in the modern era of Me Too and Time's Up.


Following the evolution of his work from first sketch to final brushstroke (with the artist’s hand played by real abstract French painter Bernard Dufour), despite the fact that Béart is nude for extended periods of time, any expectation that Rivette’s film is going to take a titillating Lolita-like approach is fortunately pushed to the wayside early on.

Moreover as we see the two alternatively cajole, bully, inspire, and challenge each other through role and personality reversal over the course of three arduous days, it's clearer than ever that Noiseuse is aptly named.

Watching the progression from idea to canvas in real time is fascinating at first and even though it gets a little repetitive as the film continues, it’s amazing how well Rivette manages to hold us under his spell – delving into metaphors of artistic and personal sacrifice along with the holiness of “artist as creator” that is sure to lead to terrific post-film discussion.


Filled with layers, the film additionally toys with doubles, doppelgängers, and life do-overs, both in terms of the two male artists as well as the two women who look quite similar and play a much greater role in their lover’s work than that of a stereotypical muse.

Likewise, while Jane Birkin’s character contradicts herself a few times early on and is initially hard to read, she grows richer throughout to the point that although we wish she could've played a greater role in the storyline, in the end it's only fitting that once again Frenhofer's wife and former muse is sidelined by his artistic need.

A fascinating evolution of French New Wave filmmaking that's also reminiscent of Rohmer's '80s and '90s period in its conversational first hour, now more than 25 years later, Jacques Rivette’s Noiseuse masterpiece is made even more Belle thanks to this gorgeous 4k restoration captured on Blu-ray canvas in Cohen Film Collection's dual disc release.



Text ©2018, 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 or screener link 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.

5/07/2018

Olive Films Blu-ray Review: Mermaids (1990)


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From the firing of filmmakers Lasse Hallstrom and Frank Oz as well as the lawsuit that resulted from actress Emily Lloyd’s dismissal on the second day of the shoot (all after alleged clashes with Cher), in anyone else’s hands the offscreen turmoil surrounding the Oscar winner's 1990 vehicle Mermaids could've easily overwhelmed the drama that unfolded onscreen.

Yet when you consider that the 1960s period piece based on Patty Dann’s eponymous novel centers around an impulsively free-spirited single mother of two famous for her packing up and leaving men and homes behind as soon as conflicts arise, perhaps any clashes that might’ve happened on set just further anchored Cher in her role.


Featuring an equally excellent Winona Ryder in a pivotal turn which garnered the actress her first Golden Globe nomination and helped usher in her transition into more adult roles, in Mermaids Ryder stars as Cher's socially awkward introverted daughter Charlotte who rebels against her mother’s flirtatious and flighty ways with a fierce commitment to Catholicism.

A frequent sparring partner to her mother whom she refers to as Mrs. Flax throughout the film, Charlotte is long-past finding her mother’s penchant for everything from affairs with married men to her compulsive need to serve most of her meals appetizer-style on sticks charming.


Protective of her younger sister Kate (played by Christina Ricci in her first role), teenage Charlotte –who also serves as the film’s narrator – is soon tempted out of a life of celibacy after she catches sight of Joe (Sixteen Candles star Michael Schoeffling), the handsome caretaker of the women’s newest home on convent property in Massachusetts.


Like an orchestra conductor striving to balance all the highs and lows while keeping everyone in the right key, My Favorite Year and Racing With the Moon helmer Richard Benjamin does his best to meld the at times darkly comedic, almost Gothic edge of Dann's book and script by June Roberts with the picture’s lighter moments.

Though its second act threatens to spin out of control most likely due to missing scenes involving Charlotte that must’ve been left in either an earlier draft of the script or on the cutting room floor, the film’s performers remain consistently authentic.

And this is especially true of brilliant British character actor Bob Hoskins, whose role as a Jewish shoe salesman and amateur painter from the midwest with a heart as big as the sea offers unexpected laugh filled harmony to his scenes with love interest Cher.


But as great as Hoskins is in Mermaids, Benjamin knows that the film's real love story is between the mother and her daughters and he directs the hell out of the title’s bittersweet third act, before a trendy, tacked on ‘80s kitchen dance party scene tries to meander it into Big Chill territory. Fortunately in spite of that, Cher and Ryder ensure that it swims to the surface.

One of many female coming-of-age movies of the era, now that it's been released on Blu-ray by Olive Films in time for Mother’s Day, Mermaids would fit right in as part of an impromptu Girl’s Night Film Festival of underrated titles alongside Man in the Moon, Mystic Pizza, Rich in Love, and Gas Food Lodging, just to name a few.


Text ©2018, 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 or screener link 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.

5/04/2018

Blu-ray Review: The Insult (2017)


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Back in high school I served as a peer mediator and while a majority of the issues we dealt with were pretty typical of the setting, once we received a case involving perceived difference of religion which snowballed so spectacularly - including off campus vandalism and violence with others in the community - that during the entire session, we had police on standby right outside the door.

Thankfully nobody was injured but it taught me an early real-world lesson that insults involving religion could escalate with such severity and speed, not just in our history books or on the evening news but even in the suburbs of Minnesota.

But if you transfer the conflict to the Middle East where there's been so much pain, suffering, and unrest involving all religions throughout the region's history, the potential for chaos is magnified to the extent that it wouldn't take more than a mere spark to erupt a volcano with the potential to envelop everyone in its path.


And with the action set in contemporary Beirut, that's precisely the situation in which we find ourselves over the course of director and co-writer Ziad Doueiri's powerful 2017 Oscar nominated Best Foreign Film, The Insult which revolves around an insult between Lebanese Christian Tony (Adel Karam) and Palestinian refugee Yasser (Kamel El Basha) that quickly evolves from words to fists to an all-encompassing lawsuit.

Using the power of cinematic point of view to great effect, The Insult first introduces us to Tony, a married mechanic and small business owner whom we immediately identify with simply because he was the first one onscreen.


So devoted to his faith and the Christian Party that he keeps a photo of the president in the room of his unborn child (much to the chagrin of his expectant wife), we watch stunned when, upon refusing construction foreman Yasser’s polite request for access to fix the drainpipe off his balcony by instead telling them to use the street, Tony destroys their work without a word.

After shouting out an obscenity at Tony, the proud, hard-working Yasser is reminded by his boss that since they’re in their (Christian) neighborhood, “you can’t talk to them like that,” and shortly thereafter, we learn that Tony has demanded an apology.


However the attempt at reconciliation goes horribly wrong when Tony insults Yasser’s religion and people in a horrific way, causing Yasser to throw a punch which ricochets many times over that it leads to the legal case at the heart of the film.

Quickly discovering that this is much bigger than he said/he said, both of the men (as well as their loved ones) are put under a public microscope that examines their pasts, prejudices, and how they got there today and predictably grow to realize that they might have more in common than they'd initially believed.


As the two men's story begins to light up TV screens across Lebanon, the people of Beirut begin taking up the increasingly divisive fight, which winds up leading to the type of chaos and violence sadly all too familiar to viewers in Trump’s America where insults have become official presidential statements and hate crimes have been on the rise.

Emotionally and intellectually thrilling, although admittedly a few of the film's plot twists feel slightly satirical and forced by the time we move into the third act, The Insult is still an extremely timely legal drama that easily adheres to Roger Ebert’s belief that “movies are machines for empathy.”


An extremely impressive work from Doueiri, The Insult would not only be a terrific selection to show high school students studying ethics but it's also sure to cause thrilling post-film discussion, including some from the filmmaker which is included as part of this technically stellar Cohen Media Group Blu-ray release.


Text ©2018, 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 or screener link 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.