Specific yet elusive, as in Olivier Assayas’ best work, “Clouds of Sils Maria” rises to the challenge that longtime colleague Juliette Binoche’s offered him: create a role for a woman of fifty that’s not all about a romantic relationship. What he came up with resembles a number of other movies, including a hint of “All About Eve,” as a professional triangle oscillates between her mid-career actress, her devoted and indispensable assistant, juggling multiple iPhones, Blackberrys and agendas (Kristen Stewart), and an ambitious young actress (Chloe Grace Moretz) repeating a role she played years earlier. (There’s also something of Joseph Mankiewicz in Assayas’ taut, gnomic gab, with professional status and personal moment indicated in snappish, contemporary dialogue.) Binoche’s performance matches Assayas’ visual style, alternately brittle and supple, while Stewart is laconic yet electric in conveying her character’s quiet, emphatic passion for her boss. Read the rest of this entry »
Stress and tranquility alike fall readily on the features of Julianne Moore: in her fifties, the finery of her porcelain, ginger-freckled face is as expressive as that of any working actor today. The most zoned and delicate of her performances, in Todd Haynes’ great “Safe” (1995), is again available to be seen, in a restored edition by Criterion. But the poles of her temperament are also on view now, in two films that have been on the festival circuit and are arriving in theaters now. David Cronenberg’s “Maps To The Stars” will be released in a few weeks, replete with a marvelous Moore performance as an actress whose hunger for a role to validate lost youth and a lost mother may be one of her most fierce. In “Still Alice,” by Richard Glatzer and Wash Westmoreland (“Quinceañera,” “The Fluffer”), Moore embodies another nightmare, in the role of a linguistics professor with three grown children who begins to misplace words. Read the rest of this entry »
It was around 2006 that I saw a presentation by Wim Wenders and Walter Salles about road movies, and it was a little after Salles had taken over the project of adapting Jack Kerouac’s 1957 “On the Road” for the movies, which had earlier consumed multiple scripts, including one by Michael Herr (“Dispatches”) and directors including co-producer Francis Coppola, who would have shot in 16mm black-and-white and even Joel Schumacher (from another script by Russell Banks). Salles had begun crossing the United States to talk to whomever he could who had connection to the book, the Beats, Kerouac, Burroughs and so on. He showed a rough twenty minutes or so, and the talking heads were interspersed with stock footage and the result was compelling. Its fate today? Perhaps an extended Blu-ray extra? That I wish to see. I’m still more taken with the few seconds’ glimpse I had of Wenders squinting and craning his neck to look up at the image behind him of an elderly man talking in a book-lined New York apartment before spinning his chair backwards to watch the video rather than just about anything in Salles’ earnest adaptation. Read the rest of this entry »
Minute by minute, I kept inner-texting myself, “this is so not Disney nor ‘Twilight’-y.” An hour later, I got it. Take in “Snow White and the Huntsman” as an almost Euro-art film rather than another vehicle for that Kristen Stewart from “Twilight” saga. Yes, it too is set on an overcast coast near moody woods. And Stewart’s intrepid Snow White has both a huntsman and a bowman as companions, instead of a vampire and a werewolf. But her kisses are limited to one from each, bestowed in benedictory fashion when she is as good as dead under a spell. Read the rest of this entry »
Antiseptic yet endearingly lurid, shiny as a polished stone, Bill Condon’s first of two “Twilight: Breaking Dawn” movies is a couple degrees cooler than camp but at least warmer than the grave. The Oscar-winning writer-director (for the script of “Gods and Monsters”) approaches the material with more tongue-in-cheek, largely in line readings, than earlier directors confronting the sparkly vampires and doggie werewolf boys who surround its hard-crushing teen-girl protagonist Bella. It’s efficient filmmaking shot straight to the heart of its expectant target audience. Kristen Stewart’s nasal murmur, smaller and smaller beside Robert Pattinson, makes for a toothy tiny bride in brown-eyed contacts, blushing, barefoot. Eat, prey, turn? Marry, fuck, thrill? “You have to accept what is,” a character says, meaningfully meaningless. Read the rest of this entry »
I don’t blame the photographer William Eggleston for committing any sins, just the filmmakers whose blood runs cool as a reptile with the essentials of the master’s style. In “Welcome to the Rileys,” the second feature from Jake Scott (“Plunkett & Macleane”), it’s Eggleston-over-easy in virtually all of the film’s quiet, scenic compositions in both an emulated Indianapolis and a post-Katrina New Orleans. Frame-to-frame, symbol-to-symbol, you could be flipping through a gifted young photographer’s Blurb- or-Lulu printed lookbook. The script’s a patch of tidily constructed miserablism, with James Gandolfini’s 52-year-old plumbing contractor evading several necessary forms of mourning and going off the grid after escaping to a convention in Louisiana. Less Crescent City than catalyst city, the French Quarter offers Doug Riley convenient ways of coping, including taking a stripper under his wing, the multiple-monikered “Mallory” (Kristen Stewart), who is a 16-year-old runaway. Read the rest of this entry »
Niche, niche, niche. “Eclipse,” the third in the “Twilight” tetralogy of pre-teen-to-teen abstinence parables from the novels by Stephenie Meyer (eventually to be a film pentalogy), has heightened production values courtesy of music-video-teethed director David Slade (“Hard Candy,” “30 Days Of Night, ” right)—a man who’s never met a digital intermediate he didn’t like—but it’s alien territory for anyone not already an admirer or adept of the series’ peculiar, bloodless vampirism in the service of dubious subtext. I’m trying to remember if I’ve ever walked in on anyone masturbating, witnessing suddenly wide eyes flicking up to reveal brow furrowed, gashed, in private distant transport. Many moments in “T:E” made me feel that way, as if I had walked into a secretly thrumming circle of private fetishes. I’m not entirely sure I want to fathom what emotional satisfactions the core “Twilight” audience gathers. Amid the indifferently paced set-pieces, soundtrack alternating between loud music and the sound of cricket and frog-crazed nights, drawing on a huge, chatty cast, here’s the lessons I take away: Fuck and you’re dead. Fuck before marriage, you’re dead. Read the rest of this entry »
“These bitches suck” was Creem magazine’s timeless takedown of The Runaways when the teenage girl band bobbed to the surface of the 1970s.
In Floria Sigismondi’s writing-directing debut, the making-of-the-band, life-on-the-road, taking-of-the-drugs telling of 1970s teen rockers who made it right to the middle (despite mostly sucking, musically) has the right attitude if not a fully fleshed story. It satisfies in bursts, like an erratically track-sequenced album. Based on Cherie Currie’s slim memoir, “Neon Angel,” “The Runaways” is episodic, and Currie’s decline isn’t as interesting as 15-year-old Dakota Fanning’s embodiment of her rapid slip-slide into neurasthenia and diva-dom. (Fanning’s turn-on-a-dime from sullen to sneering as the band assembles the song “Cherry Bomb” is one of her best moments: “Ch. Ch. Ch. CHERRY BOMB!”) Joan Jett’s survival instincts are more indicated than dramatized, and Kristen Stewart, while as watchable as ever, brings more spark than fire. Michael Shannon, playing oddball Svengali Kim Fowley, is bright and funny as a leering loon, but he’s a man we ought to be fearful of as much as mesmerized by. (Shannon’s memorably theatrical styling of lines like “I am the luckiest dogfucker in space!” are more Walkenesque than truly loony.) Read the rest of this entry »
“The Yellow Handkerchief” is a captivating character study of unlikely provenance, capturing eminently watchable loners in ravishing landscapes. Here’s the pile-on behind the picture: The story began as a newspaper column from the 1970s by Pete Hamill, which was the basis for the Tony Orlando and Dawn song, “Tie A Yellow Ribbon ‘Round the Ole Oak Tree.” Producer Arthur Cohn is 83, the only winner of five Oscars in that role, including for “Four Days in September,” “The Garden of the Finzi-Continis,” “Black and White in Color” and “Harlan County.” The glorious cinematography is by one of the world’s best cameramen, Chris Menges (“Local Hero,” “The Mission,” “Notes on a Scandal”); the editing is by Christopher Tellefsen (“Gummo,” “Capote”). The director, Udayan Prasad, is best known for 1997’s “My Son The Fanatic.” “The Yellow Handkerchief,” the film, written by Erin Dignam, is set in post-Katrina Louisiana, with recently released ex-con Brett (a mustachioed William Hurt) winding up in the company of two unschooled teenagers in a convertible, 15-year-old Martine and Gordy (Kristen Stewart, Eddie Redmayne). Taciturn yet menacing, precise just shy of precious, Hurt’s performance is one of his richest. But Prasad’s handling of the slim, familiar story allows the characters space to interact, to breathe, and it’s a gratifying choice. He honors the serious and the sentimental alike. It makes for a lovely fable. The able score is by Eef Barzelay, of Clem Snide, and Jack Livesay (“Sherrybaby”). With Maria Bello. 96m. (Ray Pride)
“The Yellow Handkerchief” opens Friday at River East.