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Wednesday, February 18, 2015

3 HEARTS (3 COEURS)


By D.E.Levine

A Rendez-Vous with French Cinema 2015 selection

Two sisters Sophie (Chiara Mastroianni) and Sylvie (Charlotte Gainsbourg) both fall in love with Marc (Benoit Poelvoorde), a Paris-based tax collector.

Sylvie meets Marc first when he misses the last train home to his home in the town of Valence and goes to a bar where she comes in to buy cigarettes.  Immediately attracted to each other they spend the entire night walking Paris.

Arranging to meet on  Friday to see where their attraction takes them, Marc suffers a heart attack and arrives late, missing Sylvie.

One day in his Paris office Marc meets Sophie, an antiques dealer whose sister has left their joint business and needs help with a tax audit.  Marc offers his help and returns to Valence where he and Sophie fall in love.  With that Sophie breaks up with her boy friend and moves out, introducing Marc to her mother (Catherine Deneuve).

Sylvie is absent from the picture since she moved with her husband to the United States when he was moved there for work.  During Skype calls Marc is always just out of the line of sight so Sylvie never sees him.

The plot has many twists and the drama heightens until Marc finally realizes that Sylvie and Sophie are sisters,  By now engaged and ready to marry Sophie, Marc's feelings are never the same passion that he felt for Sylvie.

The sisters, always devoted to each other, face some interesting scenes with delays that prevent Sylvie from meeting Marc formally and attending the wedding ceremony.  Marc, committed to and married to Sophie, is obsessed with Sylvie after the marriage.

The story is interesting, the acting of the highest caliber, making for an interesting time at the cinema.


Saturday, February 7, 2015

IDA


By D.E.Levine

Writer/director Powel Pawlikowski has given us a very disturbing film.  Instead of concentrating on surviving the Holocaust like so many other films, Pawlikowski has returned to his native Poland and looked at the void left behind after the annihilation of Poland's Jews during the war.

The film is set in 1962 and photographed in black and white which enhances the starkness of the countryside, the cities and the people.

Anna is a young Catholic novitiate about to take her vows at a rural monastery,  When the Mother Superior informs her that she must visit her ever absent aunt before being allowed to take her vows, Ida, very much against her will, travels to Warsaw to meet with her aunt.

Wanda Gruz, the aunt, is a judge in the court system and a disillusioned Stalinist who leads a life of liquor, cigarettes, music and a parade of anonymous men.  Her life is filled with unremitting pain. Wanda admits to Anna that she is Jewish by birth and that Ida, born Ida Lebenstein, is also Jewish.

Although Wanda mocks Ida innocence and piety, the two women find that they are mutually affectionate and Wanda agrees to take Ida to search for the remains of their family.
 
They prove to be a strange traveling duo but both are responsible for forcing the other to confront things they've been avoiding ---- for Ida, a world that offers more than what she has been exposed to, and for Wanda, the memories and anguish of the past that she has buried in the recesses of her mind.

Wherever they go they find animosity at the very mention of the family name,  The current resident of the old homestead is openly hostile while the townspeople deny any knowledge of the Lebenstein family.

What is apparent is that neither woman wants to reconnect to the Jewish faith, a faith that appears to be completely missing as they travel through Poland.  Ida has been raised a devout Catholic and doesn't desire to know anything about Judaism.  Wanda is a modern communist who doesn't believe in any religion or have faith in any system.

Somewhat autobiographical since the director didn't learn of his own Jewish roots and the murder of his fraternal grandmother in Auschwitz, the director has developed and shown a story devoid of Judaism and a Jewish community.  Ida and Wanda are the entire Jewish population in the film and neither one acknowledges their religion.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

OBVIOUS CHILD


By D.E.Levine

An indie film funded partially by Kickstarter, this film has drawn raves in various competitions.

Donna Stern (Jenny Slate) is an aspiring stand up comic who antagonizes evening audiences with her views on sex and religion, but spends her days working at the Oppressive Non-Imperialist Bargain Books.

Donna, being extremely blunt and forthcoming, discusses everything, no matter how private or sacred.  One of her topics is her unplanned pregnancy with a nice boy named Max (Jake Lacy).

Writer/Director Gillian Robespierre adapted the screenplay from her own 2009 short.  The film makes the case for women to have the choice to choose what to do with their own bodies and raise angry voices in the Catholic Church by the characters' frank discussion of sex, pregnancy and abortion.

This is an impressive debut film for Robespierre.  It also provides the characters with substance.  Donna is certain about her decision to have an abortion and Max never argues with her or doubts her right to make that decision regarding her body and her future.

Monday, February 2, 2015

IT FOLLOWS


By D.E.Levine

It's very common to fear the unknown.  In David Robert Mitchell's It Follows we see what it's like to know what you're afraid of and still be terrified.

The premise is simple.  A young girl, Jay (Maika Monroe) has a sexual experience and then feels that a presence is lurking about her and following her.  This is a real horror film that utilizes a common youthful activity as the catalyst. Quite literally, if you have sex in It Follow, you must die.

This is Mitchell's second full length feature and he manages to create terror just about everywhere, regardless of whether it's night or day, sunlit or overcast, areas populated with people or empty houses, streets and playgrounds.

What's even more terrifying is the presence can change forms and adopt those of people who are known and trusted.  The dilemma is how to tell the "real" person from the murdering "presence".

The original score by Disasterpiece adds to the tension and terror.  There are scenes and images that evoke early John Carpenter from 30-40 years ago.

It would be simple to give a spoiler alert in this review but that would ruin the effect of the film.  It's better to watch It Follows with little or no prior knowledge so that you can reap the full effect of the film.


Monday, January 12, 2015

THE DUKE OF BURGUNDY


By D.E.Levine

Two lesbian entomologists live in a beautiful villa surrounded by gorgeous gardens.  The viewer is never told exactly where the villa is located but it seems to be some.  They like to play mistress and servant.

The two women enact submission and domination on a daily basis.   Evidently, the thrill has gone out of the relationship and they are searching for some new and interesting sadomasochistic

The younger and apparently shyer of the two, Evelyn, (Chiara D'Anna), plays the part of a beautiful maid.  Although she appears to be the submissive one she actually plans elaborate scenarios and leaves precise directions on handwritten.  The tasks, the dialogues and the punishments are all part of an elaborate sex game dictated by Evelyn.

The mistress of the house, Cynthia (Sidse Babett Knudsen) inflicts kinky humiliating punishments for any and all transgressions and apparently the younger woman can do nothing right.  Although punishments are meted out commensurate with the transgression, Evelyn always winds up locked away in an old wooden trunk.  With explicit directions about when to "surprise" her, and a safe word to stop the proceedings, if necessary the two women attempt to put a spark back into their relationship.

The women attend each other's scientific lectures at the local entomological institute to which they are both in some way connected.  When Cynthis throws Evelyn out and starts dressing in comfortable pajamas instead of laced corsets and wigs, Evelyn starts looking for a new playmate for her game.

Shot in Hungary, the cinematography is wonderful and the scenery is incredibly beautiful, but the world seems unreal and perhaps even from a different historical era.  The characters reveal an emotional dependence but it is, as well as the film as a whole, is laced with humor.

Even the closing credits list all the common and Latin names for all the featured insects.  There are many cases and displays of these insects featured in the film.  In addition to visual effects, sound is very important and contains a mixture of music by Cat's Eye, the sound of insects and source noise.

Director Peter Strickland provides a film rich in feeling and texture, although intense physical scenes do not appear onscreen.


Friday, January 9, 2015

BLACK AND WHITE


By D.E.Levine

Kevin Costner believed in this story so much that he financed the film himself and his portrayal is outstanding.

Elliot (Costner) is a successful, hard-drinking Los Angeles attorney.  He and his wife Carol (Jennifer Ehle) are raising their biracial granddaughter, Eloise (Jillian Estell) the product of a union between their daughter, who died at 17 in childbirth, and a black boyfriend who has since disappeared.

When Carol is killed in a car crash, Elliot sinks into a deep, drinking depression but devotes himself to his granddaughter.

At this point Eloise's paternal grandmother , Rowena (Octavia Spencer) decides to seek custody of the child and bring the girl to live in Compton with her extended family.  Rowena's brother Jeremiah (Anthony Mackie) takes her case and there ensues an ugly court battle.

When Eloise's absentee father returns to Los Angeles and tries to start a relationship with her, Elliot, feeling that the drug-addicted man is a bad influence, gets into a contentious battle with him and the rest of his family.

This is a thinking film.  It tackles racial issues, family disfunctionality, personal biases and legal parameters.

Well cast and acted, the film was more than I hoped for and intricately weaves both humor and pathos into the story and performances.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

BIG HERO SIX


By D.E.Levine

This is a wonderful film for children and adults alike.  Although adapted from a comic book, Disney has improved the story and combined a tale of morality with entertainment.  Naturally, the animation is fantastic because it's done by Pixar, a Disney subsidiary.

The main characters are 14-year old Hiro (Ryan Potter), his older brother Tadashi (Daniel Henney) their Aunt Casa (Maya Rudolph) and Tadashi's invention Baymax (Scott Adsit).  Living in the futuristic city of San Fransokyo (based on San Francisco and Tokyo), an Asian infused Golden Gate Bridge co-exists with trolley cars, dumpling shops and a Tokyo-like skyscraper skyline.

Hiro is a genius who doesn't see the point in attending university, although he already has his high-school diploma.  Instead, he designs electronic robots and enters back-alley robot fights.

After a brush with the law, Tadashi takes Hiro to his college robotics lab where Hiro becomes intrigued with the people he meets (the "A" Team) and the projects they're working on.  Now obsessed with enrolling in the school, Hiro enters a science competition to prove he's a desirable candidate.  Winning acceptance because of his microbot project from Professor Callaghan (James Cromwell), Hiro is elated.  But a devastating fire kills both Tadashi and Professor Callaghan and causes Hiro to retreat to his bedroom and grieve.

When he discovers Baymax in a suitcase in the bedroom, Hiro activates him and allows Baymax, who is programmed to ease all types of pain, to ease his pain.    Along with Baymax and the A Team, Hiro becomes an avenger dedicated to find and apprehend the villain responsible for setting the fire and stealing Hiro's invention.

This is an animated feature that imparts an anti-violence message, emphasises education and using the brain and celebrates friendship and family.