Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Un Peu de Français

It was a strange turn of events that the two films I went to see back-to-back yesterday were both French, but, as well as making for an easy theme for a post, it serves to highlight that foreign cinema doesn't deserve to all be dumped under that label, for the two films I saw couldn't be much more different from each other. Interestingly, if we want to draw parallels with Hollywood, expectations were turned on their heads: the one that you'd think would tend away from Hollywood cliche instead revels in it, and the one that seems more inclined towards convention breaks it to pieces.

The first of the double-bill is one of the most trumpeted foreign films of the year- La Vie En Rose is a lavish, expansive biopic of chanteuse Edith Piaf, with an Oscar-courting central turn from Marion Cotillard at its centre. The biopic has become the genre-du-choix for awards-seeking actors in recent years (see Monster, Iris, Capote, The Aviator, Finding Neverland...) and the musical sub-genre of the biopic is a particular favourite, with both Jamie Foxx and Reese Witherspoon winning their Oscars for their turns as Ray Charles in Ray and June Carter in Walk the Line respectively. And, sadly, though it may be a French film, La Vie En Rose does nothing to break away from the conventions they've set up in this flourishing genre. Granted, many of the elements are the same- troubled childhoods, drug addictions- but you might expect a production free of Hollywood to try something different. But La Vie En Rose is as movie as a movie can be, and I mean that in the worst sense of the word. There's no depth here- the entire life of Edith Piaf has been shoehorned into the film, though large gaps (Piaf's involvement in the WWII Resistance being entirely ignored) float around aimlessly. But there's still so much going on that director Olivier Dahan rushes through most of it- and so, when the young Edith wails that she wants to stay at the circus, we have no idea why, our only experience of that being her being yelled at by a performer. We frown in confusion when suddenly, in a news scene, Edith suddenly has a husband. We laugh when a lost child is crowbarred into the plot in the last half hour. The other main problem, being, as you may have heard, that Dahan seems to have shuffled the script before filming, because La Vie En Rose jumps all over the place for absolutely no reason. Yes, Walk the Line opened at Johnny Cash's famous Folsom Prison performance, but from there it went back to the beginning and progressed in an understandable linear direction. Yes, Iris jumped back and forward, but the dual threads of young Iris growing and old Iris declining also went in a linear way, and the contrast worked to highlight the character of Iris. But La Vie En Rose's slapdash plotting serves no purpose whatsoever, and even works to the film's detriment- it slices apart what looks like a competant performance from Marion Cotillard, highlighting the actress's use of wigs and make-up much more than a linear progression would have. It didn't surprise me when I thought back over the film to find that the film's most successful moments occured when emotion had been built up over a gradual progression of events- most obviously, the powerful moment when Edith breaks down on hearing her boxer lover Marcel Cerdan (Jean-Pierre Martins) has been killed, is affecting precisely because the film has invested time in their relationship, showing their flirtation and romance uninterrupted by flashbacks/forwards. There's some good stuff within La Vie En Rose- the sets, particularly in the childhood sections, are strikingly realistic; Emmanuelle Seigner is superb as Edith's childhood carer Titine; and, naturally, the music is beautiful. But it's symbolic to note that when Non, je ne regrette rien closes out the film, it's the song, not the handling of it, that brings tears to the eyes. You'd learn more about Edith Piaf from reading a book. Grade: C-

Tell No One really couldn't be a more different story. From it's genre- thriller- to it's modern setting, this is as far from the fantastical world of La Vie En Rose as you can get. Which one is the true story again? When our hero, Alexandre Beck (François Cluzet), incidentally causes a car crash on his breathtaking run from the police, it's entirely surprising, realistic, and unglamourous. Said chase is probably the culmination of the film's slow-burning grip on it's audience, ending with a moment that would be hilarious if you weren't so burnt out. Adapted from the book by American novelist Harlan Coben, Tell No One has been craftily adapted by by actor-writer-director Guillaume Canet (apparently he was the heartthrob of The Beach, which I hated, but he also gives himself Tell No One's most despicable part- a respectable move). A enigmatic plot is the film's core, adorned by excellent performances from the likes of Nathalie Baye, Kristin Scott Thomas (entirely integrated, by the way), and Marie Josee-Croze, filmed stylishly yet unflashily. Perhaps the film does suffer from a rather too blatant exposition of its plot at the end- it's all done in bugged monologue- but this is still an exciting, Bourne-like (that's a very good thing, if you didn't know) thriller that deserves a wider audience. Grade: B+

Friday, June 22, 2007

David Sez: I'm Not Glenn, But Read This Book!

Okay. I know I haven't been talking about movies much lately- partly because I've hardly been watching them; the last two I've watched were American Psycho on Saturday night, and before that Zodiac the Tuesday before, so I've hardly had much to talk about- and I get the feeling that music discussion isn't as interesting to people (?). But I am definitely going to be seeing La Vie en Rose and Tell No-One either next Tuesday or Thursday (Wednesday is taken up by a trip to Wimbledon!), and possibly Water on Monday, and I will try to talk about them. In the interim, however, here is something at least partly movie related, as I bring you a golden reading recommendation...

Buy this book. Or at least go to the library and get it out. I am naturally assuming here that you have an interest in Katharine Hepburn- you probably shouldn't get it out if you don't- but then, who doesn't? [/naive] It's a long book. Really long. I mean, it took me about six months to get through- granted, I was very erratic (one chapter; nothing for three months; up to halfway; nothing for three more months; finished in one go), but it's not exactly a day's read. However, as my strange reading habits show, it's very engrossing. Once you're in, it's hard to get out.

For Katharine Hepburn was a very fascinating woman. There have been, you might say, so many books on her already, including one by the woman herself. Ah, yes. But what William J. Mann does so well- and so insistently- is strip back the complex and deep-seated legend that has been spun about Kate since she began as a movie star. And the woman herself was instrumental in spinning this legend- as she aged, became the celebrated actress in films like The Lion of Winter and Long Day's Journey Into Night, she realized the public wouldn't truly love the woman she really was, but instead they loved the myth, the facade. They loved the romantic trials of Kate and Spencer Tracy- in reality and much more complicated and troubled relationship that was told, as Mann explores in detail. Kate: The Woman Who Was Katharine Hepburn is all about challenging the accepted story, the built-up legend, about stripping back the Golden Age of Hollywood to reveal what was hidden beneath.

Ultimately, though, Mann acknowledges rightly that all this spinning of legend doesn't make Kate any less of a star, any weaker as a person or less respected. The myth-spinning is all part of the fascination, what made Hepburn such a star, such an enigma. Mann charts her entire life with previously unavailable information and interviews, extensively looking at what made the woman tick. If you have any interest in Hollywood's Golden Age and Katharine Hepburn, this is a book you need to read.

Monday, June 04, 2007

Dazed By Rihanna in Jindabyne

I've been MIA since Thursday- that's four days. What have I been doing in this time, you may ask? Well, I've went back home and then returned to university again (for the last time before the holidays begin), saw two movies in one day (a common practice of mine- and more on them in a sec) and read an entire book which I'd already read (this was for examination purposes, not for fun). Exams next week mean I still won't be around too much- I should be revising, though how much I'll actually do is unknown- but you can still expect a few things, including, of course, The Tuesday Tribute.

But this is a movie blog, not a diary, and so to the topic at hand. The dreadful Wedding Daze only had the divine Isla Fisher drawing me to it in the first place, but it proves yet another case of me being led blindly by my actressual leanings. There are some other good people in it- Joanna Gleason, Edward Herrmann, Joe Pantoliano; I'll even admit to liking Jason Biggs despite never seeing him in anything remotely respectable- but the whole thing is just a delirious mishmash, a revolting mixture of American Pie gross-out comedy (Biggs' parents are sexually experimental/deviant caricatures) and a plot that seems to have been adapted from Bringing Up Baby in some odd way (ie. they all end up in prison). This is not to compare to Baby, however- I love that film. Wedding Daze, however, is ludicrous- Biggs' girlfriend drops dead after he proposes to her dressed in nothing but red hotpants and a pair of wings, which I suppose is probably a good alternative to marrying someone who would even consider doing that- and full of caricatures, from the aforementioned parents to Fisher's colleagues/friends with a circus background to her conveniently gay ex-boyfriend. Fisher and Biggs do their best to play it with a straight-face, and along with Michael Weston as his best (and thankfully sceptical) friend Ted they do mine a few laughs here and there, but the entire thing is so predictable while being so ridiculous that I just wanted to scream. Not that my audience seemed to enjoy it much- except the woman a couple of rows ahead with a extremely nasally laugh which was probably funnier than most of the film. Grade: D+

Jindabyne, however, which I saw before Wedding Daze, was an entirely different kettle of fish, though that was really to be expected. Glenn's been championing this movie since the beginning of time, it seems, and so I went in with high expectations- expectations that were, thankfully, met, solidified and bronzed. Ray Lawrence (almost as maverick as Terrence Malick in his rareity of projects) puts the entire film on edge, David Williamson's photography and music by Paul Kelly and Dan Luscombe combining to add a sinister, dangerous feeling to virtually everything in the movie, not just the things you would expect. Jindabyne is not simply a story about the fallout of a group of men's actions upon discovering a body- it's a story of a community's struggles to deal with the intertwining issues that were already there, how they change when an event brushes them, and how the people caught up in them deal with one another. Powerful performances from a superb ensemble cast- Leah Purcell, Deborra Lee-Furness and outsider Laura Linney being the standouts as the partners of three of the four men who find the body- make Jindabyne's depiction of a precarious community seem blisteringly real, and Lawrence is smart enough to never overplay things- Linney's clear American accent is never remarked upon and yet is clearly an issue, while the murderer (whose identity is in no doubt throughout) silently appears at erroneous intervals to unnerving effect. I did feel that the film lost something at its end- a heartfelt song at the murdered girl's funeral is moving but the tone of reconciliation feels jarring- but overall, Jindabyne is a powerful, naturalistic and thoughtful piece of work. Grade: A-

In music news, V.I.P. Music reports that 'Don't Stop the Music' WILL be Rihanna's third single (but hang on- they decided on a third single and shot the video already?! They haven't even shown us the second one yet!)- thank GOD. This means that people who don't buy the album will hear it and fall under its spell. This means they'll play it in clubs. This means I can get my groove thang on to it. Maybe.

In more Rihanna news, Good Girl Gone Bad was released today (or tomorrow if you're American)- and the UK has the option of a two-disc edition with a bonus digipack CD of remixes. 'Don't Stop the Music''s remix is not a patch on the proper version, but it has a decidedly more upbeat sound to it and is a good, solid remix, while 'Umbrella''s remix (by Seamus Haji and Paul Emanual) jazzes up the track's memorable chorus to superb effect. The Wideboys Club Remix of 'Shut Up and Drive' is pretty poor with it's swiping electronic sounds, but 'Breakin' Dishes' works remarkably well as a club track- the ferocity feeds into the icy beats of the Soul Seekers Remix. 'Push Up On Me' lends itself well too, turned into a ferocious poppy dance tune, the Soul Seekers Remix of 'Good Girl Gone Bad' brings out its lyrical strength, 'Say It' is jazzed up with an effective Caribbean rhythm but the stodgy lyrics sit oddly with it, and 'Cry' (the UK bonus track which, while a ballad, is surprisingly good and deserved the obligatory ballad spot over 'Say It') is remixed by Steve Mac to solid effect. 'Haunted'- a track which we've yet to hear the original of (though it's definitely a ballad)- is also given the Steve Mac Klassic treatment, but it's rather boring. Finally, 'SOS' doesn't really work since it was almost a remix itself; but on the whole it's worth forking out the extra for the extra disc.