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Thread: PARIS MOVIE REPORT October 2013

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    PARIS MOVIE REPORT October 2013

    PARIS MOVIE REPORT Oct. 2013



    As usual I don't know how many films I'll cover or at what length during this brief sojourn but I hope to brig you up to date on things not available stateside and give links to them at the top here.

    Possible films of interest and Allociné press rating:

    9 MOIS FERME /9 MONTHS STRETCH (Albert Dupontel) 4.0
    ALABAMA MONROE (Felix Van Groeningen) 3.7
    AS I LAY DYING (James Franco) 2.7
    AU BONEURS DES OGRES/THE SCAPEGOAT (Nicolas Bary) 2.4
    BATAILLE DE SOLFÉRINO, LE/THE BATTLE OF SOLFERINO (Justine Triet) 3.8
    ELLE S'EN VA/ON MY WAY (Emmanuelle Bercot) [Catherine Deneuve vehicle] 4.0
    MA VIE AVEC LIBERACE/BEHIND THE CANDELABRA (Steven Spielbergh) 4.0
    MY CHILDHOOD (Bill Douglas, 1972) [at MK2 Beaubourg]
    NORVEST/NORTHWEST (Michael Noer) 3.8
    SHÉRIF JACKSON/SWEETWATER (Logan Miller) 3.0
    SUR LES CHEMINS DE L'ÉCOLE (Pascal Plisson) 3.8
    TIP TOP (Serge Bozon) 3.1
    THE YOUNG AND PRODIGIOUS T.S. SPIVETT (Jean-Pierre Jeunet) 3.1

    INDEX TO REVIEWS.
    9 MONTH STRETCH/9 MOIS FERME (Albert Dupontel 2013)
    AS I LAY DYING (James Franco 2013)
    BEHIND THE CANDELABRA/MA VIE AVEC LIBERACE (Stephen Soderbergh 2013)
    BROKEN CIRCLE BREAKDOWN, THE/ALABAMA MONROE (Felix van Groeningan 2013)
    DANCE OF LIFE, THE (Alejandro Jodorowsky 2013)
    FAMILY, THE/MALAVITA (Luc Besson 2013)
    MEDEA/MÉDÉE (Pier Paolo Pasolini 1969)
    NORVEST/NORTHWEST (Michael Noer 2012)
    ROOM 514 (Sharon Bar-Ziv 2012)
    TIP TOP (Serge Bozon 2013)
    TONIGHT OUR HEROS DIE/NOS HÉROS SON MORTS CE SOIR (David Perrault 2013)
    SWEETWATER/SHÉRIF JACKSON (Logan Miller 2013)

    ________________

    EARLIER PARIS REPORTS:
    MAY 2011
    OCTOBER 2011
    MAY 2012


    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 08-04-2015 at 04:41 PM.

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    PARIS MOVIE REPORT (OCTOBER 2013)

    Michael Noer: NORTHWEST (2012)


    GUSTAV DYEKJAER GIESE IN NORTHWEST

    Criminal ambition tears up a family

    Danish director Michael Noer's second feature is a hard knocks criminal coming of age involving two brothers​, tall, pale, chiseled nordic types who seem like slightly edgier and less educationally advantaged versions of the great Norwegian director Joachim Trier's star Anders Danielsen Lie. They're like two peas in a pod, but inside maybe there's a key difference. They live with their mom (Lene Marie Christensen) and little sister Freya (Annemieke Bredahl Peppink) in the tough multi-ethnic Copenhagen district designated in the film's title and Casper (Gustav Dyekjaer Giese), 18, steals rich people's high level home electronics (and designer lamps) with a sidekick and sells them off to Jamal (Dulfi Al-Jaburi). Andy (Oscar Dyekjaer Giese, Gustav's actual brother), 17, is interested, and when organized crime moves into Norvest and Casper gains the confidence of midlevel gangster Bjorn (Roland Moller) Casper brings in Andy (desite his promise to mom to protect him) and drops his relationship with Jamal. Jamal will have none of this. Eventually the conflict proves lethal for Casper, who has more of a sense of responsibility than Andy and lacks his daredevil foolishness. Things come to a breaking point when Bjorn assigns Casper the job of offing Jamal, now that the conflict has turned into a turf war.

    Energized by the handheld camera of Magnus Nordenhof Jonck of A Hijacking and the commitment and naturalness of newcomers Gustav and Oscar Giese, as well as thei edge created by using a lot of improvisation within scenes, this film achieves a nervous immediacy that can really grab you as things get dicier and dicier for the brothers and the heightened danger tears the whole family apart. The scenes in themselves seem conventional, particularly the coke-and-babes partying of Bjorn et al. and the coming of age rituals. Attention is given to showing how close Casper is to his little sister (a birthday party, a painful goodbye) and to Andy, though a split occurs between the two boys when the younger one turns out to be perhaps the bigger risk-taker. There is a lean muscularity about this film that will endear it to film noir fans even as they may lament the loss of the rituals and elegance of the genre in better days. The way the camera and POV stay nearly always on the shoulders of Casper contributes to unity and realism. There are of course underlying themes of the class and ethnic systems of crime and the devastating effect of crime and financial ambition on the stability of the family.

    Noer collaborated with Tobias Lindholm (director of A Hijacking) in 2010 on a claustrophobic prison drama, R. His screenwriting collaborator here was Rasmus Heisterberg, who scripted Royal Affair and the first two films in the Millennium trilogy.

    Northwiest/Nordvest, in Danish and English, 91 mins., debuted at Cannes in 2011. It has received good notices in France (Allociné press rating 3.8) following its 9 Oct. 2013 theatrical release. Screened for this review at MK2 Hautefeuille, Odén, Paris.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 10-18-2013 at 04:46 PM.

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    Paris should be nice in October.....:)
    "Set the controls for the heart of the Sun" - Pink Floyd

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    It's not springtime in Paris but yes, I think so. I hope to find some interesting movies. I've seen better choices (in September and May) but there is always some good stuff not found in the States.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 10-17-2013 at 04:24 PM.

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    Saw the very violent and mythical, Cormac McCarthy-like (lite?) SHÉRIF JACKSON (French title) or SWEETWATER today and will write a review of it later.

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    Is the documentary WATERMARK on your radar?
    Looks very good to me.
    Dazzling imagery....
    "Set the controls for the heart of the Sun" - Pink Floyd

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    If you look up IMDb's RELEASE INFORMATION for WATERMARK, it has only been shown and released in Canada -- not one other country, which seems kind of unusual. So no, I had not heard of it. Toronto and Vancouver fests, 11 Oct. Canada theatrical release.

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    Hmmm. I didn't know that. Interesting, Watson....VERY INTERESTING.....
    "Set the controls for the heart of the Sun" - Pink Floyd

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    PARIS MOVIE REPORT (OCTOBER 2013)

    Logan Miller: SWEETWATER AKA SHÉRIF JACKSON (2012)


    ED HARRIS

    Western that's a pointless series of killings

    This dull yet extremely violent mythological western takes us to a middle-of-nowhere version of 1880s New Mexico: space and locale aren't very clearly established, not that the scenery isn't striking. Out in the desert, a pompous cleric-- who more than that is power-hungry and totally mad and evil -- whose local followers call him "Prophet Josiah" (busy and versatile English actor Jason Isaacs) comes upon two young men (played by the filmmakers, the Miller twins themselves) camping on what he says is his (and therefore God's) land. They are roasting a sheep, which he also says is his. Though they say they're connected to the governor of the state, he stabs one to death and shoots the other as he attempts to flee. This is how things go in this movie, interlaced with scenes of forced sex and verbal provocation. Like all the killings that are to follow, these are shocking, but leave us unmoved. This film is stylish, but pointless.

    Later a similar fate befalls a Mexican-born farmer, Miguel Ramírez (Eduardo Noriega) whom Josiah, a thoroughgoing racist, also does not like, and therefore kills. Miguel's reformed prostitute wife Sarah (January Jones) comes looking for her husband, and eventually will realize Josiah's guilt but will kill not only eventually him, but a venial voyeur shopkeeper and various minions of Josiah. All this has been complicated early on by the arrival of the provocative, canny, also rather mad Sheriff Jackson (Ed Harris with long white locks and a long pale blue coat with plaid clown paints). In the end, there is a series of killings by Sarah mostly, with a traditional shootout, but not much suspense. Might it be that New Zealander Andrew McKenzie, whose story is the starting point, was under the sway of Cormac McCarthy's novels? The adapted screenplay is by the Marin County, California twins, Logan and Noah Miller, who worked with Ed Harris before on their debut film Touching Home, but Logan is listed as the sole director this time around.

    Ed Harris has fun with his role, enjoying Prophet Josiah's good food and then stabbing his nice mahogany dining room table with his own big murderous knife to illustrate his suspicion that Josiah has killed the two young men; and every so often doing a sprightly dance that is quite nutty and belies the age suggested by his grizzled beard and silvery locks. January Jones, Don Draper's prim, then adulterous, wife in the Sixties advertising TV series Mad Men, brings a certain cool dignity to her role, but she seems too pure to have been a whore, and her wrath hath not enough fury in it.

    In France where this was presented under the title Shériff Jackson, the theatrical release was "Forbidden to under 12 years." Figaroscope, whose critic liked it a lot (it got an overall Allociné press rating of 3.0), said it "refers as much to Tarantino as to Peckinpah." Actually despite some mildly ornate dialogue this lacks any of the verbal excitement or wit of Tarantino, the terror and suspense of Peckinpah, or the apocalyptic grandeur of Cormac McCarthy. Furthermore the individual scenes don't seem to link together very well and hence not much narrative drive develops. The abrupt ending makes little sense, and leaves one unsatisfied. Some moments are exploitative or vulgar. Prophet Josiah uses women sexually right and left; some scenes suggest the filmmakers are thinking of There Will Be Blood. In fact there are many influences, none integrated fully.

    Sweetwater, 95 mins., debuted at Sundance Jan. 2013 and in the summer was released on DVD in the UK and Japan. Theatrical release in the US and France 9 Oct. and the US 11 Oct. It has done less well with US than French critics: Metacritic rating: 38. Todd McCarthy's assessment (no relation to Cormac) for Hollywood Reporter: "The Old West is portrayed as a venal loony bin in Sweetwater, a handsomely designed, occasionally funny but ultimately empty female vengeance yarn." Bill Graham's lead on twitch also rings true: "Sweetwater isn't easy to enjoy. For such a spare and tight film, there seems to be a lot of dead air. " He attributes that to a failure to integrate separate narrative lines. Screened for this review at UGC Odéon, Paris.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 10-19-2013 at 06:35 AM.

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    PARIS MOVIE REPORT (OCTOBER 2013)

    Felix van Groeningen: THE BROKEN CIRCLE BREAKDOWN AKA ALABAMA MONROE (2013)


    NELL CATRYSSE, VEERLE BAETENS AND JOHAN HELDENBERGH IN ALABAMA MONROE

    Fractured melodrama screams for attention

    Felix van Groeningen's Flemish-language film The Broken Circle Breakdown, Belgium's 2013 entry in the Best Foreign Oscar competition, is nothing if not ambitious. It uses a very fractured time scheme, warm musical interludes, and a level of heart-tugging drama that is beyond operatic. If it works for you it may be deeply moving, but the overkill here is palpable despite good acting and charismatic leads.

    First of all there's a young child with cancer. Then there's the passionate and tormented love affair of the couple whose little girl, six-year-old Maybelle (Nell Cattrysse), gets so sick, causing an upheaval their relationship doesn't really survive. The wife Elise (Veerle Baetens) in fact decides on suicide. Meanwhile the relationship is dramatized by the intense rationalism of the husband, Didier (Johan Heldenbergh). He also fights with his wife, who's religious and wants to believe, as did their child, that death isn't the end. The couple fall in love at first sight, but sparks of incompatibility fly -- in the film's strongest moments. (The sex scenes are intense but rather routine, and the texture of everything here looks conventional next to that other current example of love story overkill, Abdelletif Kechicne's Blue Is the Warmest Color, NYFF 2013). Elise is a tattoo artist and tattoo parlor owner and is covered with tattoos. Didier would not want to mark his body thus. Somehow the filmmakers feel obliged to bring in the Twin towers and George W. Bush's veto of stem cell research. Didier blames religious fanatics represented by Bush for his daughter's death. When he interrupts a climactic concert after her passing to deliver a harangue on this topic it's not just that his behavior is inappropriate and likely to offend the audience at the concert; the filmmakers seem to be inappropriate too, losing touch with the texture of their story.

    The emotional complexity of all this, the couple's incompatibility, the child's tragedy, the wife's self-destruction, is given a palpable shape, its own special logic, perhaps, by imposing a highly fractured chronology, cutting the film so the child's illness is mixed in with the couple's first meeting, and the wife gets pregnant and has a baby while the child is in the hospital getting chemotherapy. A rush to the hospital to save the wife is intercut with her suicide attempt and that suicide attempt is mixed back with the first meeting and another meeting after the couple has broken up. Perhaps to make sense of this constant alternating of joyous and sad moments, the film is full of jaunty, well-performed live music, because the husband besides being an artisan and carpenter is a serious professional country and Bluegrass banjo player and singer who belongs to a successful band. Somewhat inexplicably, since at the couple's first meeting the wife doesn't know what Bluegrass is, she becomes one of the lead singers in the group. The performances are good, if they're mostly all covers rather than original songs, and the husband is a big handsome attractive man resembling the young Kris Kristoferson. The group even sings at the child's burial and (minus her, of couse) in the hospital when the plug is pulled on the comatose Elise. These are powerful musical moments and are a bold move that draws you willy nilly into he film's overflow of powerful emotion at those emotional key points.

    Hardly a single moment of this film is anything but theatrical and operatic. Because it's in Flemish (though all the songs are in English, which everybody speaks, or sings in, with a perfect accent) it's exotic; and the mise-en-scène is rich. The couple lives out in the country with horses and a shiny big truck and first live in a trailer and then when the baby is coming (which Didier at first seems opposed to) they move into the adjoining farmhouse that they restore with new masonry and murals. There is so much excess material that in the extremely fractured, semi-avant-gardist sequence of the wife's suicide and death there's a quick scene cut in of the little girl chasing a black and white baby pig. Where did that come from? Was it needed? It's one more thing that illustrates the filmmakers' passionate commitment -- and their utter, partly winning, partly somewhat appalling, lack of restraint. And even viewers who vote more strongly for this film -- which is unquestionably more than average accomplished -- tend to concede that after Maybelle's death about 45 minutes in the mixed up cutting begins to confuse the trajectory, even making the scenes hard to identify, particularly when Elise appears in an ambulance.

    Those critics who say this avoids being maudlin are incomprehensible. This is a Halllmark Card melodrama that hides its banality with its flashy technique and engaging performances, sung, played and acted (it's based on an original musical drama). Its camouflage is to keep you guessing and never let you think. At the end, I not only felt manipulated. I was uncertain that anything had really felt real. Life is not all drama. The Broken Circle Breakdown's refusal to allow a single quiet, mundane moment makes it feel like a movie, and only a movie. It's impressive. But it's unfortunately fake.

    The Broken Circle Breakdown, 111 mins., opened in 2012 in Belgium and the Netherlands, but debuted internationally at the Berlinale in Feb. 2013, showing a Tribeca and numerous other fests. It is scheduled for US release 1 Nov. (Its mixed US reviews averaged out well in its favor according to Metacritic's rating of 71.) It came out 28 Aug. in France. Screened for this review at MK2 Beaubourg, Paris, 19 Oct. In France its title is Alabama Monroe (Allociné press rating 3.7, with both enthusiastic reviews and some strong dissents, as in the US). The witty Anthony Lane reviewed it in The New Yorker, where he at least much preferred it to Richard Curtis' silly About Time - NYFF 2013.)
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 01-01-2015 at 02:23 PM.

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    PARIS MOVIE REPORT (OCTOBER 2013)

    Serge Bozon: TIP TOP (2013)


    SANDRINE KIMBERLAIN, FRANÇOIS DAMIENS, ISABELLE HUPPERT IN TIP TOP

    Bozon is back, with a police procedural -- sort of

    With Isabelle Huppert, Sandrine Kiberlain, François Damiens, Karole Rocher, and some other known French actors, notably Samy Naceri, fully committed to the project, Serge Ozon, more often an actor himself than a director, abandons the quirky charm he achieved with his last (musical, historical) feature, the 2007 La France (SFIFF 2008), with its WWI setting and unique song interruptions, and turns in Tip Top to an absurdist Pirandellian contemporary crime investigation with a look at the war between the sexes and S&M and Arab-French issues. The result is "an utterly brazen mix of screwball comedy, film noir and sharp social commentary" that "hits its own strange bullseye more often than not," Scott Foundas wrote in Variety . Again Bozon is clearly bent firmly on going his own way. But when the bullseye is strange, one may not always be so sure if he's hit it. Indeed Steven Dalton of Hollywood Reporter used the same target metaphor but reached the opposite conclusion, calling Tip Top "an overwrought experiment in cerebral slapstick that misses more targets than it hits." There were walkouts at the limited Paris screening I attended, and viewer acceptance elsewhere seems highly unlikely. One reason for this is lack of surface appeal. This is a hasty-looking, no-nonsense production lacking any effort at interesting settings or locations and presented in Bozon's sister's Céline (no doubt intentionally, but off-puttingly) ugly, washed-out-looking blueish digital images. It's the opposite of eye candy, and in exchange it lacks the elegant minimalism of, say, some of Godard's early films. And this extends to staging. When people fight, it barely looks real. When there's a big fracas in a bar, nothing gets broken Mise-en-scene-wise, it's minimal verging on amateurish.

    But let us proceed. In a scenario by partner Axelle Ropert and Odile Barski whose basic plot is drawn from a pulp novel by the British writer Bill James, Esther Lafarge (Hupert) is paired with Sally Marinelli (Kiberlain) to investigate the murder of Algerian police informant Farid Benamar in Villeneuve, a suburb of Lille with a big Algerian population, Benamar's corpse found in a park called Plage du Lac. Esther, whose violinist husband (Samy Naceri) shows up for a conjugal visit after Esther has spent ten days on the job, is into sexual encounters that are mostly boxing matches that draw blood, while Sally is a voyeur who uses her adjoining hotel room to watch a man across the way in his underwear. Esther's catching drops of blood on her tongue from a bleeding wound ever after her husband's bloody visit is a bit of madcap humor that seemed distinctly repulsive. But this comes later.

    Sally and Esther are Internal Affairs detectives (Sally recently demoted for ethics issues) called in from outside, because Benamar was a former cop and cop-operative. The local police therefore don't like or trust them, and put Mendes (Francois Damiens) on their tail, Mendes having been Benamar's local police contact, a kind of friend. It's all very vague -- too vague -- but there's something fishy about Rachida Belkacem (Saida Bekkouche), a local Algerian community leader Benamar may have been himself tailing for Mendes. Scenes begin to multiply that involve Algerians. Notably, the police chief is watching nighttime TV footage of recent rioting-insurrection in Algiers -- real footage that, by the way, is much handsomer and more striking than Bozon's sister's lackluster images. Meanwhile there are scenes with Rachida Belkacem, and Sally starts dating Mendez's latest informant (Aymen Saidi).

    François Damiens as Mendez is the one we see the most of, partly because he is bigger and taller than anybody else, particularly the tiny Huppert and Kimberlain, but also because he is the only actor who projects any real warmth and appeal. Huppert's usual deadpan dryness may work for the farce, but that never catches fire. Along the way, there is a police suicide and a murder, and Rachida tries to pin Banamar's death on a local drug boss, involving more of the Algerian community.

    Damiens' Mendez is making an effort to understand Arabs, or anyway Algerians. He keeps reading a book called Are We Serious In Our Practice of Islam? and at every opportunity -- with Arab children as well as adults -- tries out his horribly mangled version of Arabic, including the traditional foreigners' howler of confusing "heart" (qalb) with "dog" (kalb). Bozon may be tackling a serious subject, but he prefers to present the East-West poitical-social-religious tragedy of dire misunderstanding as farce.

    This may work for you, although for me the spare, ugly production, together with the failure to endow the police investigation with any real energy or significance, made it hard to care about the possible bite to the malentendus or jokes. In fairness one may say Bozon has some damn good ideas here, but falls short in the execution. This is one of those movies that may be pleasurable to write about, but less so to watch. This was not true with La France, which might leave one perplexed and bemused, but offered a rich texture all through that's lacking here. Dalton's assertion that Bozon's casting all this serious stuff as farce is "bizarrely counterintuitive" is perfectly sensible. There is a lot of stuff here that just doesn't fit together, and doesn't work. It's a case of sticking stubbornly to ideas that just don't play. One can partly say that of La France, but that's an artifact whose craft one could -- to some extent, anyway -- savor. Less so here.

    Tip Top debuted at Cannes 2013 during Directors' Fortnight, and opened theatrically in France 11 Sept. According to Allociné it's gotten a fair press rating (3.1) but the public isn't buying (1.2). Screened for this review at MK2 Hautefeuille 19 Oct. 2013.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 01-01-2015 at 02:12 PM.

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    PARIS MOVIE REPORT (OCTOBER 2013)

    Steven Soderbergh: BEHIND THE CANDELABRA (2013)



    Soderbergh's stylish kitsch bauble: decor wins out over emotion

    This isn't the first dramatization of Liberace's five-year relationship with Scott Thorson, the entertainer's 17-year-old boyfriend, 40 years his junior, taken on in 1976. But Steven Soderbergh's film, presented in competition at Cannes and shown in the US on HBO, surely is a stylish piece of work. What is it best at, though? Is it the depiction of a both strange and warped and touching and sad May-December gay romance between two lonely, needy people? Or is it the novelty casting and acting -- Matt Damon, Michael Douglas, and Rob Lowe as Scott, "Lee," and the memorably strange-looking plastic surgeon who worked on them and turned the young man into a drug addict with a lethal cocktail of cocaine, quaaludes, biphetamines, and Demerol? There's also Debbie Reynolds, who back in the day was entertained by the Scott-Lee couple, playing Liberace's bored and neglected mom, speaking with a heavy Polish accent. Aside from Damon's being 25 years too old, which makeup does wonders to conceal in the superior first half, the two leads turn in fine, sometimes astonishing performances as the kindly tyrant and his passive, later petulant, peroxide-blond victim.

    But they can act their head off. It's still the mise-en-scene that will be most remembered: the achieved mimicry of LIberace's world, the gilded camp of the costumes he wore and decor he surrounded himself with. One is safest praising Soderbergh's restaging of several of the legendary shows, with the mile-long white fur robes, bejeweled Rolls Royces, the piano playing almost irrelevant. And also the sub rosa accoutrements of Liberace's life, such as the outrageous aforementioned cosmetic surgery, the amyl nitrite "poppers" to enhance orgasm (Scott doesn't care for them), or Lee's risky secret trips to porn parlors where Soctt, played by an angelic and hunky Matt Damon early on, who after plastic surgery and the drugs looks increasingly bruised and battered, vomits, presumably from the drugs.

    Rather than a fine film this is an impressive novelty bauble, worth inclusion on the CV of everyone involved, most notably production designer Howard Cummings, so it's a pity its made-for-TV status (doubtless allowing for the sexual frankness) seems to bar it from Oscar consideration in any category.

    The flashy, kitsch pianist Liberace was at some points the world's highest paid entertainer from the Fifties through the Seventies. His tasteless pastiches didn't win any favor with classical music critics, to whom he replied he was "laughing all the way to the bank." With his flashy incrusted luxury cars, mile-long white fur capes and gilded candelabra he is as garish as any world-famous entertainer could get. Now the question arises: How could anyone not know he was gay? Simply because Liberace rose to fame at a time when homosexuality wasn't a comfortable thing to talk about, and his naive middle-aged, middle-American female fans didn't want to know. Hence it makes a kind of now out-of-date sense that the pianist successfully sued people who linked his name with homosexuality, despite his flamboyant nelly demeanor and his cavorting with a pretty young man dressed up in matching glittery white outfits. Gays knew, of course, as is shown in the opening scene, when Scott is first taken to a Liberace show with an older man who knows the performer. And when they go backstage Scott is entranced and Liberace is interested and they both know it's not just about would-be veterinarian Scott bringing something for Lee's aging poodle's blindness.

    Personally I baulk at taking the Scott Thorson-Liberace affair as revelatory of any inner secrets of human behavior or the human psyche. It just seems like a transaction convenient to both parties. I find such relationships singularly depressing, despite the balance of Richard LaGravenese 's screenplay from Thorson's memoir, and felt much the same about the young-old and also rich-poor gay liaison depicted by Rainer Werner Fassbinder in his 1975 Fox and His Friends. Mike D'Angelo was right at Cannes when he said Soderbergh's film is basically just the story of a lover affair that flourished for a while and then burned out, and that the interest is the tragicomic reproduction of all the surrounding vulgar excess and getting it right down to the last rhinestone.

    The director is known as an impressively quick study. And this is a case of having too facile gifts (see the Oceans movies, which however aren't so intimate) and so it feels like Soderburgh whipped this movie out as a stunt, the first in a declared new life of not doing actual theatrical-release films any more. Correspondingly, there's a chilliness about the life depicted in this made-for-TV title that fits with the director's cold production. But you can't blame him for that. It could not be otherwise. Not that this is a gay thing. Man has a tendency to commodify his whores and mistresses and kept boys equally, bedecking them with finery and then, when the novelty wears off, sending them packing. This is what happens to Scott.

    Behind the Chandelier, being made in 2013, can be, and is, up front about the anal intercourse and Lee's fight to play top as well as bottom. Scott, who sticks to top, insists he's bisexual, though his straight side isn't showing: he professes to find butt-fucking yucky, at least for him to be on the receiving end of it. The film also depicts a loving relationship in which Scott plays both toy boy and son. That's why Liberace creepily resorted to having his young lover-paid "friend" and on stage chauffeur surgically altered to look more like him. When things go bad, Scott sues for palimony, but doesn't do as well as he thinks he ought to. Five years later, Liberace calls him back for a visit. He's dying. Later it turns out it's from AIDS, and his attempt to cover that up is posthumously thwarted. The film doesn't show Scott's life since (he's been in and out of jail and remained on and off an addict).

    Ma vie avec Liberace, 119 mins., the French title translating the memoir's subtitle, My Life with Liberace, has an Allociné press rating (4.0) that shows the enthusiastic post-Cannnes reception in France. Ditto Stateside: May 26 US HBO TV release: Metacritic rating 82. The UGC Les Halles theater in Paris where it was screened for this review a month after its 18 Sept. 2013 release was packed.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 01-01-2015 at 02:23 PM.

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    PARIS MOVIE REPORT (OCTOBER 2013)

    David Perrault: TONIGHT OUR HEROS DIE (2013)



    A gorgeous, original hermetic homage, weak on plot

    French director David Perrault's debut feature Nos héros sont morts ce soir ("Our Heros Are Dead Tonight" or "Tonight Our Heroes Die"), a drama about masked wrestlers in France in the Sixties, is a genuine oddity mixing disparate elements. It's a homage to Tarantino that also evokes pre-Nouvelle Vague French crime films; or, the Cannes Critics' Week organizer Charles Tesson called this film "Jacques Becker filmed by Wong Kar-Wai." In some ways it's as minimalist and macho as any B picture, but it's also an art film notable for immaculate velvety black and white cinematography. The latter puts most other digital black and white films to shame both for the deep blacks (though true shadows are missing) and its many ingenious compositions. It's also surreal, and one may think of Georges Franju with the memorably flamboyant finale of a fire in wax museum storehouse where a sculpture of James Cagney melts down to nothing but the eyes while one of the main characters lies unconscious surrounded by tall thin figures draped in white sheets. Perrault is as interested in mythology and imagery as in storytelling. That's the trouble: the images are great, but there's not a compelling narrative.

    Basically he has made a two-hander -- ring opponents in fixed matches, with some sinister gangsterish and slightly ghoulish manager-fixers and a couple of sad-eyed women in an atmospheric bar fitted with predictable but handsome period gimmicks -- a juke box, a pinball machine. Simon (the handsome and muscular Jean-Pierre Martins) is a pro wrestler called "The Specter" who wears a white mask. When his pal Victor (Denis Menochet, the terrified farmer at the outset of Inglourious Basterds) returns bruised but outwardly tough from service in the French Foreign Legion, Simon proposes that as a civilian job he be his adversary and wear a black mask and go by the moniker of "The Butcher of Belleville." When Victor winds up not feeling tough enough to play the scapegoat Simon suggests they secretly change masks and ring identies: but the wrestling pubic isn't so easily fooled. This is all about role-playing, masks, tough exteriors and inner softness and vulnerability.

    Early on Victor gets burned with a cigarette by Tom (Yann Collette), a sadistic dandy with a sunken eye-socket and an amputated voice box brandishing cigarette in holder. This is a test of Victor's resistance and courage that he doesn't totally win. There is another enforcer, The Finn (Pascal Demolon), who menaces.

    The women are Jeanne (Constance Dollé), a literary bistro keeper, and Simon's musically hip girlfriend, Anna (Alice Barnole), an early Serge Gainsbourg fan. One of several admiring English-language reviews is that of Brian Clark, who describes Tonight Our Heros Die as combining "elements of classic noir and boxing/wrestling pictures from the fifties and adding a healthy dose of distinctly French existential dread, post-colonial guilt and New Wave homage" thus crafting "a winning debut that celebrates great films of yesteryear, while still feeling unique and vital in its own right." Yes, but one doesn't get a strong feeling of anything actually happening here, amid the homages and lush digital black and white. The simple basic elements of B fight pictures of the Fifties or Sixties are therefore blended into a wax museum image that is endlessly referential and stylish, but a bit static, despite the big bulbous men bouncing off each other in the ring in a mock battle of Good against Evil and the colonial angst and cinematic nostalgia. I come back to the fact that, as Figaroscope put it in its review (quoted on Allociné, which gives the film an collective press rating of 3.5), Tonight Our Heros Die is "A handsome black and white film that lacks a solid scenario."

    Nos héros sont morts ce soir, 97 mins., debuted at Cannes International Critics' Week. Screened for this review on opening day in France, 23 Oct. 2013, at MK2 Odéon in Paris, at an afternoon showing that was nearly empty, while across the street at UGC Odéon Luc Besson's The Family/Malavita, with DeNiro, also opening, a larger auditorium was packed.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 01-01-2015 at 02:41 PM.

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    PARIS MOVIE REPORT (OCTOBER 2013)

    Luc Besson: THE FAMILY (2013)



    Sadistic mashup of two cultures features De Niro in a slightly less bad movie than usual

    The Family, released in France as Malavita, taken from the name of a handsome black-faced German Shepherd that's the least humiliated actor in the piece, is a movie that makes you cringe to see it in Paris on its opening day in a packed theater. According to Allociné the French critics don't care for it (press rating 2.4) but the public does (audience rating 3.5). It makes one as ashamed for American movies as for the French audience that laps it up and worried about the sweeping global dilution of quality this signals. Whatever few laughs or amused smiles this outrageous gangster comedy riffing off The Sopranos arouses are undermined by a sinking feeling of jointly disintegrating quality and taste.

    It's hardly a relief to know The Family/Malavita is by a Frenchman, Luc Besson, now a major producer who (relatively speaking) only occasionally directs. It still exemplifies some of the worst aspects of today's Hollywood. It is a gleeful celebration of violence featuring a American mafia family in some weird witness protection program that takes them to the south of France. Despite the French setting and a bit of French dialogue, everybody, from local mayor to plumber to teacher to lyçée students, speaks fluent idiomatic English. It's not exactly sure why France is dragged in other than for production reasons, though it's also not exactly sure if the movie would work if set in the US. Everyone in the family is sadistically cruel. Gangster husband De Niro beats people to death with baseball bats. Wife Michelle Pfeiffer sets fire to supermarkets and other things. The cocky brother (John D'Leo), who resembles Alexander Gould who plays the blithely evil younger son Shane Botwin in the TV series Weeds, likes automatic weapons. His dreamy aggressive blonde sister (Dianna Agron) enjoys mangling opponents with tennis rackets. After a lot of corpses and brutalizing, there is a super-violent finale that, as often happens in Hollywood, is longer on spectacle than coherence. This is not a very good movie,though it has some laughs and one can see how it could have been better. And it has great or at least very good actors in it, including Tommy Lee Jones. Whatever: the opening day Paris audience lapped it up.

    The family, heavily backed up by FBI handlers even in their umteenth French town, keeps having to move because hubby De Niro and wife Pfeiffer's sadistic violence destroys their cover and they must relocate and change names. Their mafia enemies are looking for them, even from federal prison, and will descend on them eventually due to a preposterously far-fetched transmission of information. The brother and sister must go to school, where they immediately dig in, the boy starting elaborate scams, the girl beginning to seduce a handsome young bourgeois math tutor.

    This movie is seriously marred by its sadistic violence from the start to finish -- are we supposed to identify with these goons? -- but had that been cut down 85% along with the dumb vulgar verbal humor (doubtless not bothersome to a French audience reading subtitles?), The Family might have been an enjoyable romp. But there are plenty of other "if's": if De Niro's manner had not become so ritualized and clichéd. If Michelle Pfieffer were not sadly evoking a similar role in a delightful film of 25 years ago, Jonathan Demme's Married to the Mob. If she's doing that it's a pity it's not in something better, and it's too bad it's been so long since Demme made those brilliant, hilarious films. If somehow or other Besson had avoided the absurdity of having a host of French characters, brutally satirized at some points by the way, who speak perfect English. If the ending were subtle and slippery instead of ultra-violent. This is a very lazy movie. It could be funny. If we laugh at the TV Weeds -- it's not to all tastes, but I definitely do -- we could laugh without self-disgust or shame at this material.

    A review of Luc Besson's 20-film directorial career is a puzzlement. Does anyone remember his very avant-gardist, really film-school debut Le dernier combat? It was strange enough to linger in a corner of the mind reserved for dogged experiments. He is most respected perhaps for La Femme Nikita. But one might get enjoyably lost in the over-long celebration of the sea, The Big Blue. And then he did something about Joan of Arc. His children's epic about Adèle de Blanc-Sec is elaborate, harmless, almost admirable. Mostly they seem overblown flops. The unifying thread is that there is none. This time he has gone mainstream Hollywood, with a touch of panache if not taste, and the unique flavor of a French setting. This is partly a French film, with Hollywood stars, but lots of French actors, only nearly all speaking the aforementioned idiomatic English. Maybe French lycéens are starting to speak that way. But I doubt it. This is an example of Hollywood movies not-so-subtly invading French culture, despite all France's postwar efforts. Avoid.

    The Family/Malavita, , 111 mins., debuted in the US 10th and 13th Sept., screened for this review on its French opening day 23rd Oct. at UGC Odéon at a packed late afternoon showing. Surprisingly, the screenplay is adapted by Besson and Michael Caleo from a novel by Tonino Benacquista, who co-wrote two of Jacques Audiard's excellent films, Read My Lips and The Beat My Heart Skipped.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 01-01-2015 at 02:17 PM.

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    PARIS MOVIE REPORT (OCTOBER 2013)

    James Franco: AS I LAY DYING (2013)


    JIM PARRCK AND JAMES FRANCO IN AS I LAY DYING

    Another dutiful and fluent James Franco filming of an unfilmable novel

    The "multihyphenate" James Franco's experiments have been gay and wild at times, but the trouble with his two latest directorial efforts, both feature film adaptations of Southern Gothic novels, Cormac McCarthy's Child of God (NYFF 2013) and William Faulkner's As I Lay Dying, is that they are too flatly literal. Literal but not exact: they're both based on highly wrought literary works of such distinct language and tone and so inextricably bound up with their language that their satisfactory transfer to the screen seems a doomed and unwise enterprise from the get-go. Franco's "Cliff Notes" adaptations lack the brilliant élan a maverick director might have brought that would justify tackling such highly literary sources.

    Franco has produced A+ term papers with a polish no ordinary film student could ever muster. Both films have the cast and crew and tech specs only a Hollywood star with unflagging energy and a to-die--for Rolodex can put together. They're thoroughgoing art films, harrowing to watch, but not all that involving. Their prospects as commercial releases are dim, but their future as visual aids to school literature courses are assured. Overall both are far from critical successes. Child of God has the edge (Metacritic ratings COG 58, AILD: 50).

    And yet -- and some critics have seen this -- the Faulkern adaptation is Franco's greater tour de force, constituting more challenges met. It's not only got a big fire (as does Child of God) but also a torrential storm with a horse cart loaded with people and a coffin wrecked thereafter in a raging river. It's also got more characters and more voices. Child of God is stronger because of its crazed central figure, which conveys unity despite a choppy sequence of scenes. On the other hand As I Lay Dying has a unifying factor too: it's a journey. The French like Southern Gothic more than Americans now do, besides which festivals love Franco. Hence James's Faulkner film's presence in the 2013 Cannes Un Certain Regard series, and its ongoing limited run in Paris, where I saw it one gray morning.

    As I Lay Dying, as seen in Franco's movie, concerns a primitive and dirt-poor clan of Southern rustics, the Bundren family: their name illustratively sounds like a twisted-around version of "burden," for their trajectory is to be Sisyphean and purgatorial. The death of the matriarch Addie Bundren (Beth Grant) leads to a disastrous series of error after a huge storm knocks out bridges and all try to cart Addie's corpse, in a home-carpentered coffin barely finished by carpenter-skilled eldest son Cash (Jim Parrack), across to the town of Jefferson in another part of the county, a two-day journey away, and the crash into the water breaks Cash's leg (where it's been broken before), turning him into another burden and purgatorial sufferer as treatment of the injury is tragically delayed to complete the burial Addie asked for and her husband insists on.

    I wish the terrible rotting teeth of pater familias and widower Anse (Tim Blake Nelson) were not such a dominant shtick. It's Ande's insistence on carrying out Addie's burial wishes that causes of all the subsequent trouble, though before him Addie has marked each child too. He seems barely aware that Cash needs immediate medical attention. He trades off the horse that's the pride and joy of the other son Jewel (Logan Marshall-Green), and in some way not made clear here he sells out the mentally unstable son Darl (Franco) to avoid a debt. He steals money from young daughter Dewey Dell (Ahna O’Reilly) that was meant to pay for an abortion. Her attempt to get that on the cheap leads to abuse by a sly townie. The littlest child Vardaman (Brady Permenter) is dreamy and confused, repeating that his mother is a fish, puzzled by where her body and soul are going and where the vultures hovering over the decomposing corpse in the wooden coffin rest at night. Nelson, though caricatural, is strong here (as are Parrack, and, mostly, Franco), seeming both a retarded looney and a dogged tyrant. His insistence on the trip to Jefferson has a selfish motive: he wants to get a set of false teeth there.

    With Child of God in Franco's adaptation one misses Cormac McCarthy's Hemingwaesque-Biblical unifying voice. Faulker's As I Lay Dying is told in 59 chapters by 15 narrators. Franco only overtly introduces a few of those, directly facing camera, rather literally evoking the fractured telling in the opening parts by using spit screen and slow-motion. While Franco, whose adaptation co-written with his fellow Yale student Matt Rager is neat enough, manages to tell most of the story in Faulkner's novel, some vivid details are left out and lack of development may just make some of those kept in hard to make full sense of. Faulkner's complex overlapping of events comes thorough, but one might need multiple viewings to get a full sense of them, starting with Darl and Jewel's departure just when Addie is about to die to make a delivery for Vernon Tull, whose wife and daughter's have been tending to the dying woman, while Cash simultaneously works on the coffin right through the torrential storm as his mother dies. Some details that are included, such as Cash's odd direct-to-camera catalogue of information about why he built the coffin as he did, seem oddly static given that the film comes across as a strange kind of actioner.

    It is remarkable how many of Faulkner's convoluted details Franco has retained, but one of the weakest elements is Franco's own role of Darl. It's not clear in the film that he seems insane or that after his barn-burning the family avoids scandal by betraying him and having him taken to the looney-bin. Franco's inherent commonsensical personality trumps these aspects that are not well conveyed. But of course the essential point of any review of this movie has to be that it's a stimulating and surprisingly dogged visual aid to William Faulkner's novel, lacking the mind-boggling, incantatory, terrifying intensity of the book; that this is just the kind of book you flat-out can't make into a movie, in any real sense, even though Franco does a good job of trying. The cast is good, if not unforgettable. The script works. Franco's regular cinematographer, Christina Voros, provides vivid images, though the split screen effects don't impress. The music by Timothy O’Keefe is evocative and not obtrusive.

    Cahiers du Cinéma comment (quoted on Allociné): "When he gets out of the library, maybe he will begin to think like a filmmaker."

    As I Lay Dying, 110 mins., debuted at Cannes in the Un Certain Regard section. It opened in NYC 11 Oct., France 8 Oct. Screened for this review at MK2 Beaubourg, Paris, 24 Oct. 2013.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 10-24-2013 at 01:57 PM.

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