12/31/2019

"When We Were Gone Astray" - Movie Review Essay: The Merry Gentleman (2008)


"When We Were Gone Astray"
by Jen Johans


Hovering on a Chicago rooftop in the darkness looking out, the first time he sees her, she's standing in the light. Arms outstretched like the statue of Jesus she'd just seen — that she tells her co-worker made her want to run into deity's arms — her pose in the window across the street from where the suicidal hitman is positioned seems to have the same effect on the man. After Frank (Michael Keaton) takes out his target in an office nearby like a sniper, he scans the windows of her building once again. Looking for Kate (Kelly Macdonald), he discovers that she's already gone . . . or at least, that's what he thought.

Standing on the ledge of the building in his second suicide attempt of the day, Frank finds himself distracted from violence yet again by those same arms and that girl. Seeing her under a streetlight this time, she looks up to where he's standing, senses his intent, and screams — causing him to fall backwards onto the rooftop to safety — as the sound pierces through the falling snow into the night sky.

Having fled an abusive husband in a different state in a brave attempt to leave the darkness of her past behind, Kate is the type of person who usually keeps her head down. New to Chicago, she seeks solace in the peaceful little things, like the gentle kiss of winter on her outstretched arms in an evening snow or a Christmas tree she picks up on a whim, to which she can't wait to add decorations and lights.


The only person she encounters who intuits enough about her past not to ask about the remnants of a bruise from her husband's fist still hovering around her eye, after the events of that fateful night where she saved a nondescript man on a ledge, Frank wants nothing more than to meet his guardian angel. Posing as a man visiting friends in her building since there's no way she can place his face from that brief glance in the dark, Frank tries to return the favor in The Merry Gentleman by freeing Kate from her newly purchased Christmas tree that's pinned her to the ground.

"I found a girl under a tree," Frank muses in their first real conversation. Chiding himself that it's dumb, he explains, "you know, you find presents under a tree; I found a girl under a tree." Smiling, getting it — and cutting through the awkwardness like the people pleaser she is, but this time an interested one — Kate tells him with a little laugh, "well, you must've been a very good boy."

Given the way that the man who poses as a gentleman's tailor by day really earns his living, obviously nothing could be further from the truth. But yet, quiet, tender, slow, and protective, something about the way he is with Kate makes it clear that he yearns to be the man reflected in her eyes, especially when she informs him, "so far we've been pretty good for one another," after only seeing him three (okay, really four) times.

Instead of leaving the tree in the dumpster after Christmas, he takes it with them on a long romantic drive at sundown to burn the once majestic tree in a field. While watching this symbolic thing that brought them together die together in a Malick-worthy mercy kill — without even understanding the dark irony about his expertise in the area — Kate tells Frank in earnest, "You just might be the sweetest man I've ever met." And in moments like this, even in spite of everything we've witnessed thus far from the man onscreen, we're inclined to agree.


But like a candle that burns down to the wick, you can only stay in the light for so long before the darkness returns. Bogged down by real world pressures such as a love quadrangle instead of a triangle, in The Merry Gentleman, Kate is pursued not only by the right man on the wrong side of the law but two wrong men — cops — on the right side of the law. Wrong does come in varying degrees, however, in this existential, modern noirish fairy tale. When the first man with a badge in Gentleman — her abusive husband played by Bobby Cannavale — shows up to beg for another chance, the second man with a badge, Dave Murcheson (Tom Bastounes) is there to answer her 911 call.

A would-be romantic suitor that Frank inadvertently brings into her life, Kate meets Dave early into the film when she calls the police about the unidentified man on the ledge and he connects it to the contract killing Frank had carried out just before he almost jumped. Taking her to dinner under the guise of following up on her report, unlike Frank who says only what he means, when that is, he speaks at all, Dave feels the need to fill every second of silence that passes between them. Telling her what she wants to hear, and then belying his words with his actions, it doesn't take long for Kate to realize that she can't believe much of what's coming out of the Chicago police officer's mouth after all.

Layering in spiritual symbolism, The Merry Gentleman knows that while some viewers will respond to the film's undeniably christian iconography with Kate-like adoration, others — like Kate's co-worker who says she isn't a religious person but she is a romantic — will not. And to its immense credit, this dark yet understated love story about good, evil, peace, and trees respects and appeals to both types of film fans.

Sophisticated, subtle, and suitably somber, but with sparks of dry wit, old-fashioned grace, and Kelly Macdonald's incandescent aura suddenly bringing even the most serious of scenes to sparklingly buoyant life, this ensemble drama is far more concerned with people than plot. Adhering to the lyrics of the eponymous Christmas carol, it fixates on those most in need of "comfort and joy" who've "gone astray."


Understanding that behavior is far more interesting than just talking to combat silence, in his bold screenplay for The Merry Gentleman, Ron Lazzeretti takes a cue from his often quiet main character to incorporate dialogue only when he must. Augmented by the chemistry of the couple at the film's core and directed with sensitivity by Michael Keaton in his feature filmmaking debut, Lazzeretti's decision, it seems, was well worth the risk. Although I encountered the film for the first time back when I covered the Phoenix Film Festival in the spring of '09, Keaton's Gentleman has continued to fascinate me on Blu-ray a full decade later.

A highly verbal actor whose skill and speed in delivering paragraphs of comedic dialogue with athletic precision has delighted audiences since the 1980s, it's both incredibly compelling and initially, a little startling to see Michael Keaton dial back his energy and bravado. In a daring turn that's wonderfully out of his comfort zone, he moves down from a Ron Howard or Harold Ramis ten — not to a Tim Burton five — but a mostly silent one.

Emotionally and physically ill at the start of the film, which was shot in just under a month, Keaton's Frank finds himself slowly coming to life for the girl who saves him twice. But still, given the gravity of things that have been left unsaid, most importantly, where Kate really saw Frank for the first time — arms stretched wide, with falling snow between them instead of her meet cute tree — the film's intelligent enough to know that these two people can't just ride off into the sunset.


An arthouse standby with the ability to infuse even minor roles — like the wife in No Country for Old Men — with goodness and warmth, Kelly Macdonald has long been one of my favorite actresses. I'm especially fond of her major turns in Two Family House (which I loved so much that I actually programmed and hosted a screening of it in Scottsdale), as well as the acclaimed yet under seen The Girl in the Cafe, which shares a cinematographer with Merry's DP Chris Seagar. Thematically similar to Gentleman and propelled by two unpredictable, opposites attract fueled narratives, both House and Girl would play very well alongside The Merry Gentleman.

A woman of humanity and good humor who, thankfully, gets to use her own Scottish accent for the film, since to see Kelly Macdonald is to love her, she's the true heart of Michael Keaton's Chicago set tale. Therefore, it's easy to see why she'd be so instantly magnetic to so many men, both right but wrong and wrong but right alike.

Benefiting from an insightful script by Lazzeretti, who was going to direct the movie until a ruptured appendix found Keaton stepping up to the plate, Gentleman also boasts a strong supporting turn by producer-star Tom Bastounes as Dave. Making sure that we never write the Chicago cop off completely, Bastounes fills his scenes with wit and pathos while playing a role that Keaton, in his comedy heyday, might've easily gravitated to in the past.


Perhaps bored by the kind of men he's already played, it's a courageous move for Michael Keaton to branch out and doubly so to step behind the camera to take on the behind-the-scenes lead role he'd been eyeing for quite awhile. And despite a frivolous lawsuit by the film's investors who foolishly tried (and failed) to blame the director for the indie not making a big profit in its 2009 limited run, this eye-opening, critically acclaimed sleeper is so good that it makes you wish that Keaton would return to direct once again.

And while, with that history, you can totally understand why he might not, in a weirdly fitting way, it actually makes sense for the film to be undiscovered. Like the tormented Frank who, in tracking down Kate, is cautiously, tentatively optimistic about a peaceful future with somebody he can be quiet with (at least for a little while), once you manage to pull The Merry Gentleman out of the darkness, you'll find yourself wanting to share it with others and help bring Keaton's labor of love to light.

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Text ©2019, Film Intuition, LLC; All Rights Reservedhttps://www.filmintuition.com Unauthorized Reproduction or Publication Elsewhere is Strictly Prohibited and in violation of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act.  Also, as an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases made off my site through ad links. 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.

12/27/2019

Sympathy for the Devilish - Movie Review Essay: Bad Influence (1990)


Sympathy for the Devilish
by Jen Johans


It isn't just the video camera that he bought simply because it was on sale. An ardent acquirer of things he doesn't really want or need — such as the fiancé he picked up simply because he didn't want to lose the security blanket of having a girlfriend — Michael is a man whose buyer's remorse includes his whole life.

Far beyond his tentative gait and careful diction, as Michael in Bad Influence, there's a spark of desperation that fills James Spader's eyes from the very first moment he appears onscreen. Delighted and disgusted by chaos in such a way that it's begun eating at his insides, Michael doubles over in pain at the office after he's sabotaged by a coworker jockeying for the same promotion he has his heart set on and his fiance postpones their wedding by a month.

Starting the conversation off by stating she's having second thoughts — as if playing chicken with his true nature — with her seriously long '80s hair weighing her down, Ruth (Marcia Cross) misjudges his look of panic as disappointment and reaffirms her intention to marry the L.A. stock analyst within the year. But it's not the pacification he wants.


Bogged down by WASPish politeness and consumerist yuppie pride, in Michael, we see a man who wants to assert himself but always backs down. Going to a bar to clear his head (if not his stomach), Michael eagerly steps up to play the chivalrous hero for a lovely stranger but the feeling lasts a mere two minutes before his head is pushed down and he finds himself in need of a savior as well.

With the boyfriend of the upset woman Michael bought a drink manhandling the young man and ready to start some static, Rob Lowe's cocksure Alex swoops in and intervenes on his behalf. Not content just to take things right up to the line (the way that the submissive Michael has done all day), Lowe's dominant Alex brandishes a broken beer bottle in his hand, eagerly looking for any excuse to cross it.

Strangers on a beach instead of a train, in Bad Influence, Michael acquires not another object this time but a new magnetic friend in the form of Alex who, like all magnets, attracts as much as we ultimately discover he repels while helping him break bad. Bringing Spader's spark of desperation to the front burner and setting it ablaze like a stick of dynamite, Alex goes from giving Michael advice on how to handle his workplace bully to taking active, radical steps to blow up the unassuming professional's well-ordered life.


Hidden behind one of the charismatic Lowe's megawatt smiles, not to mention a career best performance by the former teen heartthrob, Alex's influence in Influence sends the two into a thrill-seeking life of crime in order to give Michael — at one point hopping up and down like a coked up rabbit on a trampoline — an even greater high.

Unfortunately, as his black sheep older brother Pismo (Christian Clemenson) warns, when you get in bed with the devil, "sooner or later you have to fuck." And that's a realization that Michael comes to way too late, and long after he brings home a randy art gallery patron himself and — with Lowe just one floor away — does just that in a thinly veiled moment of Strangers on a Train or Rope like Hitchcockian homoeroticism. Of course, the fact that his conquest involves a videotape given Spader's breakout role in Steven Soderbergh's groundbreaking 1989 indie smash Sex, Lies, and Videotape is a wonderfully meta layer of intertextuality.

Following up director Curtis Hanson's stellar 1987 Rear Window-esque effort The Bedroom Window, which he also wrote, by the time Bad Influence was released, the filmmaker had discovered the perfect genre niche that would serve him well in future hits such as The Hand that Rocks the Cradle, The River Wild, and L.A. Confidential. Hanson's mature yet tongue-in-cheek handling of screenwriter David Koepp's startlingly clever existential allegory of good vs. evil at the start of the 1990s makes Bad Influence the rarest of guilty pleasures. It's a film that's as trashy as it is classy.


Elevated by the sultry, sun-drenched, and shadow filled neo-noir visuals of Paul Thomas Anderson's regular cinematographer Robert Elswit — here in his first of three collaborations with Hanson — as well as the dynamic, fully committed, marquee level turns by its two leads, Bad Influence is a highly compelling adult thriller from the era that churned them out with assembly line efficiency.

Even when Koepp's script pushes things too far towards the terrain of camp as Lowe's character seems to be hosting a game show called "Yuppie Punk'd," the film is filled with some truly masterful sequences that pull us right along. From one scene where Michael discovers that his hand is bloody and doesn't remember why to another where he nervously hides a dead body as a couple (who could discover him at any time) fights nearby, we're right there with the empathetic Spader as we wonder just what it is he might be capable of and what, of course, he might already have done.

Putting us in the dress shoes of our conflicted, morally tested lead, the level to which we hold our breath and try to plot our way out of the men's toxic relationship is a credit to the strength of Koepp's work and foreshadows his future mastering moments like precisely like that in tense thrillers including Jurassic Park and Panic Room.


Daring to subvert audience expectations so that even when we see a game Michael start to make out with a woman at a party, it doesn't appear as though he's fully aroused until he catches Alex from above watching him score, there's a lot going on beneath the surface in a film that could, in other hands, have merely served as fodder for a sleazy Cinemax movie after dark.

A powerful early indicator of the talent involved both in front of and (especially) behind the lens in Hanson, Elswit, and Koepp, Bad remains sophisticated, even when it occasionally succumbs to the basest instincts of a by-the-numbers erotic thriller, including a blink-and-you-missed it denouement.

And while the '90s were a largely hit or miss time for the two leads — particularly Lowe, following his own Sex, Lies, and Videotape scandal at the DNC — it's an absolute treat to see the two desperately try to acquire everything in sight before realizing they're not only desperate but devilishly fucked.


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Text ©2019, Film Intuition, LLC; All Rights Reservedhttps://www.filmintuition.com Unauthorized Reproduction or Publication Elsewhere is Strictly Prohibited and in violation of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act.  Also, as an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases made off my site through ad links. 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.

In the Key of Noir - Movie Review Essay: I Walk Alone (1947)


In the Key of Noir
by Jen Johans


To hear Lizabeth Scott's jaded torch singer Kay Lawrence tell it in I Walk Alone, "all the songs sound alike these days." And with their good and evil tales of antiheroes, bad decisions, and femme fatales that together create an instantly recognizable cinematic melody, Kay might just as well have been talking about the film noir genre where the tropes had been established a decade earlier in their nearest relative — '30s crime pictures.

Most evident in standard cops and robbers fare or gangster epics like Scarface, the moral quandaries of right and wrong permeated through the era's socially conscious films as well, including the union centered Warner Bros. crime melodrama Black Fury, which Walk director Byron Haskin had lensed for Michael Curtiz back in 1935.

An existential B movie noir, I Walk Alone knows the rules of the genre well and embraces them with as much matter-of-fact resignation as recent parolee Frankie Madison (Burt Lancaster) does when he sees vertical shadows on the ground and informs his friend, "bars, Dave, I guess I'll never get away from 'em." Yet while Frankie observes this with a hint of despair onscreen, Haskin appears to have taken the bars of noir as a challenge to stage a great escape offscreen.


Understanding the standard notes of noir that must be played, in the 1947 production, he opts for a different arrangement and fills his chorus with character actors like Scott, Lancaster, and a knockout Kirk Douglas, all of whom did some of their best work in the genre. And once they start singing the wry, lyrical dialogue penned by Red River scribe Charles Schnee, I Walk Alone sounds like a dream.

It looks like one too, thanks to the contribution of the great cinematographer Leo Tover who painted the lush Hold Back the Dawn and The Heiress with light during the exact same decade that he let the shadows and fog take hold here. Most importantly, as not only a former cinematographer but an award winning Warner Bros. special effects wizard who'd developed a rear-projection photography system that helped advance the medium and also worked on such landmark films as They Drive By Night, and Arsenic and Old Lace, Toller had a vital ally in Haskin.

Together, the two men knew how to make Walk's symbolic and sumptuous visuals count. The end result is a sexy, grown-up noir that shocked critics like Bosley Crowther of The New York Times who thought it violated the Hays Code and The Nation's James Agee who dubbed it "unclean, unclean" upon its post-World War II release.

In I Walk Alone, Lizabeth Scott's Kay Lawrence isn't the only one who's jaded. Long before we encounter the torch singer who feels she's "sung too many torch songs," the picture finds Lancaster's Frankie out after a fourteen year stretch that's changed the man so much that he believes that he can now smell fear. Desperate and angry, with Frankie hoping to get what's coming to him from his old partner Noll "Dink" Turner (Douglas) even though we know right away that it's hopeless, Haskin's movie feels like it would play perfectly as one half of a double bill with Straight Time, Dog Day Afternoon, or any number of other dead-end neo-noirs of the 1970s.


However, featuring an over-the-top final moment with Douglas (for which the actor has taken full credit), unlike those two films, I Walk Alone is saddled with an ending that feels out of step with the rest of the picture. And while it dulls some of its hard edges with the type of misguided musical moments that were common in the genre — as well as an all in one night, largely one set approach that makes you question Lancaster's character swings and the film's logistics — overall, this noir works far too well for it to be so forgotten.

A mature effort, Walk was based upon the play Beggars are Coming to Town by Theodore Reeves. As stylistic as it is natural, even in a few instantly quotable, lusty double entendres from scene stealer Kristine Miller, Schnee's script is filled with surprisingly wistful, half optimistic, half pessimistic sentiments ideally suited to characters in their thirties who've been around the block a few times. Unafraid of complex conversations that, just like in unrehearsed real life, spiral off in any number of directions over a period of minutes, in I Walk Alone, two long, talky sequences stand out.

Dropping lines that still feel fresh today, in a drawn-out dinner date between Scott and Lancaster, she suddenly confesses, "I've never been out with a man who didn't keep talking about himself and end up thinking he knew all about me," before marveling that tonight — opposite the chiseled, silent as a vault ex-con who can smell fear — the opposite is true.


And this recurring theme of expecting the unexpected when it comes to the man who just can't escape the bars of his past continues on in a heartbreaking hold-up sequence where Frankie learns the hard way just how much the world has changed in fourteen years. Discovering that he can't use a gun to rob a bureaucracy or board of directors in a scene with Kirk Douglas that Douglas plays with so much amused venom that you half expect poison to drip from your TV, I Walk Alone proves it's far more sophisticated than one might expect.

Though still not as fun or frisky as the director's Lizabeth Scott led follow up, Too Late for Tears, this film, which I hadn't seen in decades, hits much harder as an adult when you're closer in age to the characters onscreen. A towering figure if there ever was one, with his masculine, musically clipped cadence and unflappable charisma, Lancaster easily draws you into the film's conflict so that you're on his side before he even crosses those shadowy bars in the very first sequence.

However, intriguingly going against those expectations, in the first of seven films Lancaster would make opposite Douglas and the first and only one where he received second billing, it's Douglas as the handsome shark — leaning back in his chair like the chairman of the board — who really gets under our skin.


Lounging like a playboy in his robe or running his hand through his hair as though he could shake Lancaster right out of it, the ease with which Douglas tells his worried henchmen that he can handle his old friend foreshadows his '50s climb to the A-list with star turns in films like The Bad and the Beautiful, and 2 Weeks in Another Town (also written by Schnee).

Likewise when, as Scott sings, Walk makes "a fool out of someone who cares" as Lancaster temporarily allows himself to be handled, the coolly calculating Douglas helps propel the film forward until our leading man changes his mind. Of course, then, having stared Douglas down every time he unleashes that deadly smile, we're eager as ever to walk along with Lancaster's fool so that he won't have to go it alone, regardless of the rushed ending and a few minor bumps along the way.

An existential melodrama sung in the key of noir, the harmonious I Walk Alone teaches us that, even if the song sounds the same, with this cast and crew fiddling with the arrangement, it'd be foolish not to care.

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Text ©2019, Film Intuition, LLC; All Rights Reservedhttps://www.filmintuition.com Unauthorized Reproduction or Publication Elsewhere is Strictly Prohibited and in violation of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act.  Also, as an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases made off my site through ad links. 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.

12/17/2019

"Loves Music, Loves to Dance. Husband Included." - Movie Review Essay: Deep Water (1981)


Loves Music, Loves to Dance. Husband Included.
By Jen Johans


Melanie (Isabelle Huppert) dances with her lover while her husband Vic (Jean-Louis Trintignant) plays chess. Vic eyes the moves she makes as he makes his own five feet away, playing visual chicken with her dance partner who's turned on as hell but doesn't know quite what to do when her husband's in the room. Where should he put his hands? His mouth? He tries using both at once and Vic doesn't flinch.

Vic knows his wife; he's the reason they're dancing, after all. Seeing her restless — sometimes going to change a record, or join another lover at the piano, or follow a third into the woods as if the handsome clarinetist were the Pied Piper — Vic knows he can't begin to keep up with the men, let alone compete with them sexually.


Sex isn't something Vic seems terribly interested in overall in Michel Deville's Deep Water . . . except when it comes to the Delilah to his Samson as Melanie's sexuality seems to fill him with as much disgust as the men hoping to bed his wife right before his eyes. Her naked body — even the sight of one breast exposed when her dress strap breaks — seems to incite obsessive repulsion as does the fact that she refuses to cover up to spite him. For Vic, it isn't misogyny but Melanie. He makes a tentative pass at the sweet wife of one of Melanie's lovers but does so halfheartedly. Facing internal defeat, Vic tells her that she's the type of woman he wants to love but it's no more than a passing thought. The man can't control his nature and love her or hate her (or more likely both), that nature is Melanie.

Raising his young daughter alongside Melanie in a French seaside town, their unusual marital arrangement to stave off divorce is a sudsy open secret. Yet while his wife flourishes in the company of so many adoring men — some of whom their young daughter likes better than others because they come bearing gifts — Trintignant's perfumer prefers to spend what little time he has away from his family with the pet snails that he keeps on their secluded property instead.


Vic observes the little creatures that most would turn into escargot with as much interest as he has watching Melanie and her men dance. Although initially we assume the attraction is because he feels like a sexually humiliated snail of a man, as the film continues, we wonder if his hobby has a different impetus altogether. Perhaps he admires the snails because — like the men who sneak off at parties to change into a bathing suit with his wife or drag their lips slowly down Melanie's neck even if he's nearby — Vic knows he could end their life at any time. In fact, he might have done so already, and not only to the snails. And that's the main thesis that initially piques out interest in Deville's 1981 slow burn psychosexual thriller, which was released in France as Eaux profondes.

Toying with one lover's nerves at a party by taking credit for an unsolved murder after the man thanks Vic for being cool with him dating his wife, we watch as Vic's chess skills spring to life and fear that (more?) violence will follow.


A stellar adaptation of Patricia Highsmith's 1957 eponymous novel from the country that seems to understand how best to bring her tales of sexual obsession to life, Trintignant's restrained yet dynamic portrayal of Vic is magnetic after the very first scene, and we watch him with Vic-like intensity.

Just like French filmmaker Jacques Demy's Model Shop plays particularly well with Quentin Tarantino's Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, Deep Water feels like it would make a thrilling double feature with Stanley Kubrick's thematically similar tale of marital temptation and warfare, Eyes Wide Shut. Additionally, if you can find it, it's a great one to visit now before Fatal Attraction director Adrian Lyne releases his own adaptation of Highsmith's novel in 2020.


Bringing multilayered complexity to a role that, on paper, reads like a mere strumpet, the way that Isabelle Huppert uses silence and her eyes, combined with the length of time she takes to give someone her verbal or visual attention foreshadows the outstanding work she would do in this (and every) genre in the years to come. A tremendously talented actress, perhaps best suited to the many shades of noir, if ever there was a woman born for Highsmith, it's Isabelle Huppert.

Testing the patience of some twenty-first century film fans, Deep Water waits quite awhile to let us in on the first plot twist and longer still before it eventually reveals its whole hand. And while I found myself wishing that Deville would've used even more of the running time to — in taking a cue from Huppert's performance — play up the duality of the proceedings, the '81 feature still works considerably well, nonetheless.


A largely forgotten French neo-noir with a potent antihero turn by Jean-Louis Trintignant, while the film belongs in the great pantheon of unhappily-ever-after movies, its tense, nasty, twisted little plot helps set it apart from the rest, even in scenes where it misses the mark. In the latter respect, it features a fascinating yet unfortunately largely unexplored angle wherein Melanie and Vic's daddy adoring daughter is not only not bothered by rumors that her father might be a killer but is actually proud of it . . . which thrilled and chilled this fan of the genre.

Yet despite a few stumbles, it's safe to say that you'll be easily seduced into dancing along with the film. Just be careful not to stand too close to the edge — or another man's wife — while he watches you squirm and plays chess.

(Availability Note: I recently caught this film on MUBI, where it played for thirty days before disappearing. If you'd like to check out MUBI so you can catch more films like Deep Water, click here to get 30 days free on me.)


Text ©2019, Film Intuition, LLC; All Rights Reservedhttps://www.filmintuition.com Unauthorized Reproduction or Publication Elsewhere is Strictly Prohibited and in violation of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act.  Also, as an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases made off my site through ad links. 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.

11/20/2019

Movie Review: The Courier (2019)


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There are two things I learned while watching The Courier. If you're planning to assassinate the only living government witness before he anonymously testifies against a New York mobster and you want to get away with it, you're going to need a patsy. And as far as patsies go, it's never a good idea to choose someone with a background in black ops, as the villains of director Zackary Adler's new thriller discover when they send an unnamed courier played by Olga Kurylenko on an unknowingly lethal errand shortly into the movie.

Left holding the bag when the package she delivers to a witness in protective custody takes out the room, the ex Ukranian military specialist makes it her special mission to protect the witness (Amit Shah) so that he can live to testify another day.


Of course to do that, she'll have to get out of the parking garage, which is where the courier and the witness soon find themselves trapped by the villainous B-team who — not wanting to fail like their colleagues upstairs — have chained up every exit and started patrolling each level like enemy territory during wartime. Outfitted and armed to the teeth with everything from smart guns that only their trigger fingers can fire to security cameras, walkie talkies, and drones, Kurylenko has no choice but to pick them off one-by-one with whatever means she can find, whether that's through hand-to-hand or vehicular combat.

Die Hard by way of P2 except with a Jane McClane instead of John McClane in the role of our protagonist, former Bond girl Olga Kurylenko is sensational in this ambitious gender swapped B-movie that dares to have a woman guard a helpless dude-in-distress while flipping the script on traditional genre fare.

Maximizing its bare bones set piece as action dictates plot, although eventually The Courier's otherwise inventive fight scenes grow so repetitive that it devolves into torture porn as Adler continually ups the stakes in its final act, overall it serves as an ingenuously conceived reminder that filmmakers are limited not by budget as much as by their own imaginations.

So wholly engrossing in its one setting in fact, the film loses us whenever it ventures from London to New York for filler scenes with Gary Oldman's cartoonishly over-the-top mobster, who — conducting opera like he's back in Leon: The Professional — belongs in an entirely different movie.


Written by a veritable committee of writers (numbering four), who each seem to have a different goal or genre in mind, The Courier flirts with Jason Bourne-ish conspiracy and De Palma gangster camp in just two of its dead-end subplots. Set largely in real time, while admittedly, the film never fully comes together, there's still enough excitement throughout for us to disregard the sum and focus instead on its many electrifying parts.

Tethering it to the realm of grindhouse action whenever Adler's gritty thriller starts to stray, the fully committed Olga Kurylenko is there to deliver the film's one final lesson. Bobbing and weaving to head off danger as she looks for any opportunity to get the upper hand, the quick thinking Courier convinces us that — rather than a patsy in the middle of a conspiracy — all we really need for ninety-nine minutes is a woman in a parking garage who's ready to kick ass.


Text ©2019, Film Intuition, LLC; All Rights Reservedhttps://www.filmintuition.com Unauthorized Reproduction or Publication Elsewhere is Strictly Prohibited and in violation of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act.  Also, as an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases made off my site through ad links. 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.

11/14/2019

Movie Review: The Warrior Queen of Jhansi (2019)


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It's all fun and filmmaking until someone almost loses an eye.

After years of building up her comfort level on horseback and getting in fighting shape to portray The Warrior Queen of Jhansi in the script she wrote alongside her filmmaker mother Swati Bhise and Olivia Emden, dancer-actress Devika Bhise knew it was time to get even more serious about her training. Studying Kalaripayattu, the world’s oldest martial art form with Jackie Chan’s instructor Gopakumar Gurukkal, Devika Bhise dove headfirst into her lessons so literally that she required emergency surgery after a shard of metal weaponry flew into her eye.

While most people would've jumped ship at this point, Bhise didn't let the injury sideline her for long. Latching onto another weapon — the long, thin, whip-like sword urumi — Bhise got right back on the horse in a move that no doubt would've impressed Rani Lakshmibai, the real life heroine she brings to life in Warrior Queen.


A headstrong commoner turned wife, queen, and widow of the maharajah by the time she’s in her early twenties, Rani finds a new calling when the royally aligned, corrupt mercantile trading corporation the British East India Company tries to steal back the land they'd given to India and claim Jhansi as their own following her husband's death.

Going from widowed queen to warrior general when diplomatic measures fail, Rani Lakshmibai begins training the women of Jhansi to fight in order to stand up to British tyranny and assert their independence, ultimately leading her countrywomen (and men) into war in producer turned first time feature filmmaker Swati Bhise's exciting if overwrought biopic.

Cramming hundreds of years of backstory into the film's slightly confusing first act, Warrior Queen is ready for action from the very first frame. In fact, hindered by a weak narrative throughline, Bhise’s film is so eager to get to the battlefield that — prioritizing conflict over character — it forgoes the vital step of endearing us to Rani, which is a major problem since she's the one at the heart of the picture marching us into the fray.

While chronicling Rani's efforts to unite her people as Jhansi's revolutionary war against the British gets underway in the 1850s makes the film seem like a natural fit for American audiences from an academic perspective, Queen suffers from the same affliction that most war movies do in that it's hard to care about characters that we don't know know very well.


Though her early actions, such as her bold refusal to shave her head (as is the archaic custom for women in mourning), speak volumes, the film doesn't trust itself enough to rely on more small acts of rebellion to help define our leading lady throughout.

Preferring instead to have Rani constantly voice her thoughts and goals aloud in anachronistic twenty-first century platitudes, while the undeniably well-intentioned feminist passion project wears its heart in its shots, the push-and-pull it faces between the film’s setting in the past and the script written in the present proves to be an even bigger battle than the one onscreen against the British.

Uncertain of precisely which tone it is that Bhise wishes to strike, the film opens like an epic from the 1950s (and indeed the last Rani Lakshmibai biopic, The Tiger and the Flame was made in 1953), but then veers into modern Wonder Woman territory as soon as our queen becomes a warrior. Collaborating with the stunt coordinators who worked on the Patty Jenkins helmed superhero film, Marcus Shakesheff and Glenn Marks turn Devika Bhise's Indian Joan of Arc into a wonder woman on horseback for the film's impressive battle sequences.

Veering away from the frenetic urgency of war shot in a breathless contemporary style to a classically framed walk-and-talk as we see Rani’s royal side, just when Bhise's film starts to draw us in, Warrior Queen loses its momentum by drifting back and forth unevenly between the two modes of filmmaking.


Giving Rani an ally and potential love interest in the form of Robert Ellis (Ben Lamb), a sympathetic British envoy who's inspired by the beautiful royal, as well as linking her plight as queen to that of Queen Victoria in England (played by Jodhi May), the screenwriters attempt to augment their one-note heroine in a study of compare and contrast. At this point, however, it's too little too late.

A handsomely photographed, thematically appealing tale of an underdog heroine standing up to injustice (as well as any man who crosses her path), while it's fine on the surface, the awkwardly paced and clunkily scripted film fails to find the rhythm it needs to work as well as it should.

With little in the way of staying power, thanks to the lack of a real connection to its titular heroine, although it's entertaining enough for a casual viewing, once the final credits roll, The Warrior Queen of Jhansi vanishes quickly from our minds. And unfortunately in this case, unlike the impressively skilled Devika Bhise, we’re unable to blame our filmic amnesia on something as cool as learning to fight and taking a shard of metal to the eye.


Text ©2019, Film Intuition, LLC; All Rights Reservedhttps://www.filmintuition.com Unauthorized Reproduction or Publication Elsewhere is Strictly Prohibited and in violation of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act.  Also, as an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases made off my site through ad links. 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.

11/09/2019

Movie Review: Papi Chulo (2018)


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When the heartbroken Sean (Matt Bomer) brings Ernesto (Alejandro Patiño) home to paint his deck, one of the first things that the Latino day laborer does is turn the light in the tool shed on. A light that Sean didn't even know he had because the shed was the domain of his ex, Ernesto's ability to find the light and turn it on with ease is something that the single weatherman desperately wants.

Except, having been sent home on leave when he suffered a breakdown live on air, in Sean's case, the light he needs to locate is the one that will put his life back on track. And in Irish writer-director John Butler's first American movie, Papi Chulo, it's a light that Sean thinks Ernesto might be just the right person to help him find.

A gently comic tale of unlikely friendship between a white, gay, well-to-do white collar weatherman and a straight, married Latino day laborer who barely speaks English, on the surface, of course, it's just the latest in a long line of films about white people learning to navigate life better with the aid of a new minority friend.

Impossibly, however, Chulo works much better than it should, thanks to the performances of its two charismatic leads as well as the sensitivity of Butler's writing. Giving Ernesto his own conflicting views on the proceedings that mostly come to light in English subtitled, Spanish phone exchanges with his wife, Butler never lets us forget about the unequal power dynamic that exists between the two men.


Likewise, refusing to sugarcoat just how flawed Sean is (from mildly annoying to dangerously alarming), much like the winds of Santa Ana that he was covering when he broke into uncontrollable sobs on air, Butler's film is propelled by a strong undercurrent of sadness, both owing to the end of Sean's recent serious relationship as well as the feeling of loneliness that only a film set in L.A. can exude.

Waiting until an hour into the ninety-eight minute running time to let us in on a key detail that might have otherwise colored our understanding of the situation as early as the very first scene, Chulo meanders off course within its last act.

Focusing more on Bomer's lead, which makes us feel the absence of Patiño onscreen as acutely as Sean does, when the film veers away from the home court advantage of Sean's upper class existence to give us an all too brief glimpse of Ernesto's world, we feel the imbalance of power even more, which paints their dynamic in a new, melancholy light.

Bonded by a genuine affection for one another that transcends backgrounds, Butler reminds us that although the two men have fun singing Madonna's "Borderline" together in the backseat of a Lyft, the realities of their situations are vastly different, and we live in a world that wants to keep those border(lines) separate.


From the casual racism hurled at Ernesto where people make Driving Miss Daisy jokes to a grocery store employee mistaking one Latino day laborer for another, although as a gay man, Sean knows a thing or two about prejudice, it's nothing compared to what Ernesto endures on any given day. And while the aggressively friendly, lonely Sean latches onto Ernesto right away, Butler doesn't let you imagine that they're suddenly pals.

In a early scene that most would play simply for laughs, Sean takes the older man boating on what he views as a break but Ernesto (of course) considers work, insisting upon rowing the weatherman around the lake just like he insisted upon carrying the equipment from the hardware store into the house when Sean first brought him home.

In fact, it isn't until the two bond over family during a hike that we feel as though we're seeing "off the clock" Ernesto, even if he's still on it, and this duality keeps the film from playing like a Hallmark Hall of Fame TV movie from the 1990s.

Talking in paragraphs as he gives voice to his insecurities (even if Ernesto can't understand much of anything that Sean says), although the two do form a tentative friendship, we never forget that much of it is just what Sean is projecting onto a man to whom he pays two hundred dollars daily for his time. Liking Sean but needing the money, Ernesto feels similarly conflicted, and we know before they do that eventually these issues will need to be addressed.


Masquerading as just another chronicle of friendship against the odds, Papi Chulo is a film with much more on its mind than typical genre fare. Refreshing on the one hand, it's frustrating on the other when we discover that, just like the movie's characters don't know how to translate and decipher the words and thoughts of one another, it's clear that Butler doesn't know quite what it is in Chulo that he wants to say.

Brought to life by its immensely likable leads, while it's Sean's arc we follow from start to finish (and Bomer's star power could light up the entire state of California), Butler definitely misses out by not devoting more time to Ernesto, which is evident when the film falters in the home stretch.

A sweet, simple story told with dark complexity, in Papi Chulo, Sean takes the long way around to realize that, whether in a tool shed or on the water, we all must find our own source of light. Luckily however, the search goes much better if we keep our hearts open and bring someone along to guide the way.


Text ©2019, Film Intuition, LLC; All Rights Reservedhttps://www.filmintuition.com Unauthorized Reproduction or Publication Elsewhere is Strictly Prohibited and in violation of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act.  Also, as an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases made off my site through ad links. 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.

Blu-ray Review: 10 Minutes Gone (2019)


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10 Minutes Gone is a risky title because if you multiply that by nine, you'll have what you'll feel at the end of this movie when you realize that it took eight-nine minutes (of your life) to lead you to a conclusion so predictable that it's telegraphed within the first five.

In a nutshell, Gone is one of those VOD heist flicks where a group of crooks said to be the best call each other by their real names during a big score that inevitably goes wrong. Only this time, Michael Chiklis is knocked out after a botched job and wakes up ten minutes later with the loot gone, his brother (and partner in crime) dead, and no idea who made it happen.

Not mano a mano but robber a robber, with Bruce Willis breathing down his neck because somebody pocketed the jewels that he hired them to steal from a bank vault, Chiklis tracks down everyone involved one by one to see if he can figure out just what exactly transpired during those ten crucial minutes.

Bringing along his brother's girlfriend who — hindered by a bad script and an unconvincing portrayal by Backtrace's Meadow Williams — reacts to the news that her lover died by flatly saying “That can't be right. Shit,” Chiklis travels from one shootout to the next.


An awkward film which suffers from third rate crime movie dialogue delivered by actors who look as though they had just been told their lines before cinematographer Peter Holland's cameras started rolling, what the script by first time feature screenwriters Kelvin Mao and Jeff Jingle lacks in logic, 10 Minutes Gone makes up for in guns and squibs.

By now a veteran of the video on demand filmmaking trade, perhaps knowing that on paper, this thing is not the sharpest tool in a safecracker's shed, director Brian A. Miller does his damndest to ensure that his action sequences are there to distract.

Spending a majority of the film's budget on visual effects to make each gunfight pop as though every battle was the standoff at the O.K. Corral — only set in nondescript warehouses with indistinguishable production design — 10 Minutes Gone serves up some of the most impressive shootouts of Miller's filmography so far.

While Willis' suave presence looks good on a poster and he turns in a serviceable, if slight performance, besides the action, the real thing elevating Gone from being a flat out awful movie is Michael Chiklis who carries everything on his ample shoulders.


Registering more emotion throughout the film than the entire ensemble cast combined, Chiklis reminds us just how effective he is on the screen in — as he acknowledges in a behind-the-scenes Blu-ray featurette — the same type of role he's played throughout his career while carving out a niche in the cops and robbers genre. And even though he deserves something worthier of his talent, he's routinely strong here, regardless of whom he shares a scene with or the wooden dialogue being exchanged before the bullets start flying.

Yet action and Chiklis aside, unless you're a superfan of the actor or it shows up on cable TV when you're in bed with the flu, in the end, there's just not enough to salvage Ten Minutes of being worth ninety of your time.


Text ©2019, Film Intuition, LLC; All Rights Reservedhttps://www.filmintuition.com Unauthorized Reproduction or Publication Elsewhere is Strictly Prohibited and in violation of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act.  Also, as an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases made off my site through ad links. 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.