Blu-Ray Review: Certain Women – Criterion Collection

Director: Kelly Reichardt
Screenplay: Kelly Reichardt
Based on short stories by: Maile Meloy
Starring: Lily Gladstone, Michelle Williams, Kristen Stewart, Laura Dern, Jared Harris, James Le Gros
Country: USA
Running Time: 107 min
Year: 2016
BBFC Certificate: 12


Kelly Reichardt enjoys much acclaim for her films among mainstream critics, but she can be an acquired taste among bloggers and general audiences. You only have to compare the quotes and ratings from critics reviewing her work to her IMDb or Amazon star ratings to see there’s a bit of a gulf between intellectual appreciation and public opinion. Being what I’d consider part of the ‘slow cinema’ movement (which isn’t clearly defined, but includes similar films that are low on plot and action), her work isn’t particularly exciting or as attention-grabbing as more digestible auteurs making films in the 21st Century. Knowing this, I don’t rush to watch Reichardt’s films as I worry I’ll be in for a tedious slog, not helped by some less than enthusiastic opinions of her films I’ve heard expressed by a couple of friends. I did see Meek’s Cutoff a couple of years ago though and was very impressed, so my apprehension has dampened somewhat since then and strong reviews lead me to accept an offer of reviewing her latest film, Certain Women. Whilst I’m happy to watch the film now though, I’m still rather apprehensive about critiquing it. I consider myself quite a ‘nuts and bolts’ reviewer, who likes to list clear elements of the film that work or don’t work rather than waffle on about what a filmmaker is trying to ‘say’. So I find slow, quiet, thoughtful films like this difficult to analyse in my usual fashion. I’ll give it my best shot though.

Certain Women takes several short stories by Maile Meloy and uses them to create three only very loosely connected narratives, which are presented one by one through the bulk of the film, before revisiting them all briefly in the finale. The first story features Laura Dern as Laura, a lawyer troubled by a client (Jared Harris) that won’t accept the fact he doesn’t have a case. He seems to have a fondness for Laura too and won’t leave her alone, asking for her help when he cracks and takes someone hostage at gunpoint.

Would you like to know more…?

Trailer: Personal Shopper

Clouds of Sils Maria was far and away my favourite movie of 2015 and while hitting the back catalog over the years I’ve come to really love the many different flavours of Olivier Assayas’ direction. So with Clouds being one of my favourite films of the past decade, it’s exciting to see him doing something similar with the same lead (who’s been showing amazing versatility and charisma since the Twilight garbage) in Kristen Stewart.

Well received at TIFF and in limited screenings around the country, this trailer gets me really excited for Assayas neest project, Personal Shopper.

Trailer: Equals

A futuristic love story set in a world where emotions have been eradicated, there is a long tradition of this idea in the history of pop cinema and literature, from the big dumb action of The Island and Equilibrium, to George Lucas’ cooler ideological THX-1138, flower-powered Logan’s Run, all the way back to George Orwell’s seminal novel Nineteen Eighty-Four. It is good happenstance that Ridley Scott, who famously re-purposed the iconography of Orwell for Apple Inc. as a TV advertisement to launch their Macintosh computer, acts as the producer on the film.

Kristen Stewart and Nicholas Hoult star in the film as the couple breaking down the barriers , along with some impressive Chinese & Japanese architecture. I dug the film quite a bit when I caught it at TIFF last year.

TIFF 2015 REVIEW: Equals

In the future envisioned in Equals, it as if Jony Ive ended debates on industrial design and all we are left is Apple monoculture. Everything is white and smooth surfaced. The architecture is soothingly clean concrete. Opening with a shot of a bedroom set sliding seamlessly into hidden wall-space; out of sight when not in use. War, poverty and nearly all human imperfections were eliminated long ago for the mere cost of engineering any and all emotion and sexual desire out of the species. What that remains are efficient, tranquil workers, passive and obedient. But something is wrong…

If you are a lover of science fiction films, Equals will be sounding quite familiar at this point. There is a long tradition of this idea in the history of pop cinema and literature, from the big dumb action of The Island and Equilibrium, to George Lucas’ cooler ideological THX-1138, and really all the way back to George Orwell’s seminal novel Nineteen Eighty-Four. It is good happenstance that Ridley Scott, who famously re-purposed the iconography of Orwell for Apple Inc. as a TV advertisement to launch their Macintosh computer, acts as the producer on the film. Of a smaller scale than the typical Scott pictured Director Drake Doremus, also taking a page from Spike Jonze, delivers a high concept but still very much commercial movie. Infused with tenderness, he tells the story through through body language and the tiny gestures as the characters are dwarfed by both technology and architectural spaces.

Orwellian realpolitik and spectacular action set-pieces are traded in for intimacy and tactile immediacy. A worthy goal for this kind of film, but somehow, it is rarely achieved. The primary focus here, this makes Equals stand out in its own quiet way. With the added benefit of being shot on locations in Japan and Singapore that were mainly designed by architect Tadao Ando. It is astonishing how much real spaces lend a realism birthed of constrained artistic challenges seen less and less in our CGI and green-screen era.

Silas and Nia, played by Kristen Stewart and Nicolas Hoult, respectively, are white collar (quite literally) workers for the news and media branch of the Atmos company. A world-spanning corporation (perhaps the only one) whose focus is resolutely on pushing humanity to explore the stars. Exploration of innerspace has been thrown onto the dust-pile of history. Nia writes the corporate press-releases, and Silas draws the images to accompany them. Their gigantic work tablets sound off with soothing chimes when each of their workaday micro-tasks are complete. They go to sedate meetings or eat their designer cafeteria dispensed meals in a fashion that is politely co-operative and passively isolated. The cinematography favours shallow focus with whites as crisp as the company uniforms.

Would you like to know more…?

Cinecast Episode 408 – Enjoy the Ineptitude

And so it is that we weed through the dregs that are the end of August. So much so, that Kurt refuses to join us for the beginning of this episode in lieu of getting to hang out with Guillermo del Toro for a screening of an early Hitchcock picture (more on that later…). In Kurt’s absence, Matt and Andrew lament our experiences with Nima Nourizadeh’s American Ultra and Aleksander Bach’s piece of shit known as Hitman: Agent 47.

But what better way to rekindle the passion, than to look back over the past half decade (kinda) and embrace (or berate) each other for our top ten picks for the “best” films of the last 5+ years?

Then we feel the need to at least mention a title or two (both old and new) in the Watch List – A moral panic crime thrillers, Nazi Germany and the latest power-house performances from Emily Blunt and Benicio del Toro. So, love and FFs (you’ll have to listen to decode that acronym) all around then, folks!

As always, please join the conversation by leaving your own thoughts in the comment section below and again, thanks for listening!

 

 
 

 

 
Would you like to know more…?

Trailer #3: American Ultra

American Ultra

If there is one thing that stoner-super-spy comedy American Ultra is doing right, it is with passive understatement, and the casting of Jesse Eisenberg and Kristen Stewart seems perfect in this case. Also digging the Molly-Day-Glo set-piece. It only has to overcome the fact that this concept (without the pot) has been done hundreds of times at this point.

After three trailers, are you ready for The Bourne High-dentity? (Sorry, that one is mine.)

MSPIFF 2015 Quick Thoughts: In Order of Disappearance


Stellan Starsgard stars in In Order of Disappearance, an amusing Norwegian gangster tale, written by Kip Fupz Aakeson and directed by Hans Petter Moland. This is the fourth successful collaboration between the director and the actor (Zero Kelvin, Aberdeen, A Somewhat Gentle Man – this last one also written by Aakeson), but only this time it’s Pål Sverre Hagen as the eccentrically neat Mafia boss, who becomes one of the best motives to watch this flick.

Set in Norway, the film opens with the exemplary Nils (Starsgard), a respected Dane who owns a company that provides snow removal services, proudly preparing himself to be awarded the Norwegian ‘Citizen of the Year’ prize. In the same breath, his son Ingvar, employee in a small airfield, is mistakenly kidnapped and forced into a van by two thugs, and then killed with an induced overdose. Unconvinced that his son was a drug addict, the modest Nils leaves the gentleness behind and becomes a merciless hitman, when he finds the gang responsible for his pain. One by one, he starts to eliminate the members of the gang as he tracks them down, but the main goal is to reach the inaccessible mad header, Greven (Hagen), a ruthless man whose only torment is the mother of his bullied son. Soon, Nils realizes that the best to get to him might be through the latter. His successive executions also trigger a gangster war between the local mob and the Serbs with whom they had an agreement to share the airfield for illicit businesses.

Death is the word of order here; you will find so many that will be hard to count them all. Sometimes the film seems to get out of track, but the sarcastic humor (have you heard about Norwegian prisons?) and Greven’s immaculate figure, keep holding out the enjoyable levels.

 

MSPIFF 2015 Review: Clouds of Sils Maria

 


 

The eponymous image of Clouds of Sils Maria features a heavenly mist snaking its way through mountain peaks like a river, the rocks frozen in time, immutable, the clouds in perpetual motion. It is shown as shot for Olivier Assayas 2014, and the characters in the film at one point watch the 1924 Arnold Fank silent, black and white short documentary The Cloud Phenomena of Maloja. The technology and aesthetics have changed, but filmmaking keeps on rumbling chaotically along as the images captured become fixed and un-aging objects. 

No matter how many films Assayas makes, he cannot help himself from being a film critic. As with many of the auteur directors of the French New Wave a generation or more before him, he wrote for Cahiers Du Cinema before becoming a hot-shot young director. Throughout his career he has often made films that examine the business, chaos and soul of filmmaking, in France and abroad. Irma Vep had New Wave icon Jean Pierre Leaud playing an addled director who casts Maggie Cheung out the Hong Kong action cinema of Johnnie To and Jackie Chan and dropped her onto a dysfunctional Parisian film set to shoot an avant-garde remake of iconic french serial Les Vampires and Demon Lover wrapped a tangled corporate thriller around the global video and web distribution rights of anime tentacle pornography. 

Regardless of what subjects the director tackles, what is interesting about his cinema is that he has always favored actors and performances to allow his ideas to flow out onto the screen over cinematography and editing. His films breathe.

Lately, Assayas has been pre-occupied with age and youth, and has left behind, mostly, any genre trappings to make films about the passage of time and how it changes people. In Clouds of Sils Maria, he has Juliette Binoche playing a fictional version of herself named Maria Enders. An actress at a point in her career where she is an international movie star who did a stint in Hollywood blockbusters before returning to the European art house and stage. A young director asks her to appear in his revival of the play that made her famous, only this time she will be playing the broken-down wealthy businesswoman part instead of the aggressive and domineering young personal assistant who sexually dominates her boss and the stage. The play in the film bears remarkable similarity to Alain Corneau’s final film, Love Crime (which was recently remade by Brian DePalma as Passion).

Would you like to know more…?

Cinecast Episode 382 – Warm and Foreign

row31-640

 
The one in which Kurt doesn’t realize he’s the winner of a (much controversial) bet. In exchange, buys Andrew a present for his sunken heart after The Oscar results. We dive headlong into The Academy Awards with all its ins and outs and what-have-yous with Neil Patrick Harris and the face touching and the boring music and the severe lack of montages and the… hey hey hey don’t hurt me. We do recognize Julianne Moore as a favorite however, and we praise her Oscar win with a heartfelt review of the quite good, Still Alice. The Watch List rattles on with pro wrestling, Cronenberg, submarine movies are always awesome and… Aeon Flux? Yeah.

As always, please join the conversation by leaving your own thoughts in the comment section below and again, thanks for listening!

 

 

 
Would you like to know more…?

VIFF 2014 Review: Clouds of Sils Maria

VIFFBanner2014

SilsMaria

Olivier Assayas isn’t one of my go-to directors but over the years he hass made a few particularly notable films though for me, 2010’s Carlos marked a high point in Assayas’ career. For Clouds of Sils Maria, Assayas brings on Juliette Binoche as Maria Enders, an actress at the peak of her career who has been asked to appear in a revival of the play which launched her career decades before. At first she’s unsure she wants to revisit the material; she doesn’t feel comfortable playing the older character and she makes a compelling argument that she’s still connected to the young character that she played early in her career but after discussions with the director and pressure from her agent and her assistant, she agrees to take on the role and the challenge.

Clouds of Sils Maria is a perfect example of what Assayas does so well: create stories that are far more involved than they initially appear. Sills Maria is, essentially, an observation of the struggles of an actress trying to navigate her career in the best possible direction. Binoche is brilliant as Maria and the role comes naturally to her which makes you consider that perhaps there’s some deep rooted truth to the struggles and challenges her character faces. The film follows Maria from the initial offering all the way through the finish line but along the way, and particularly in the second act, the movie becomes a far more complicated beast as Maria works through the script with the help of her assistant Valentine (Kristen Stewart).

Would you like to know more…?

TIFF 2014 Review: Clouds of Sils Maria

 


The eponymous image of Clouds of Sils Maria features a heavenly mist snaking its way through mountain peaks like a river, the rocks frozen in time, immutable, the clouds in perpetual motion. It is shown as shot for Olivier Assayas 2014, and the characters in the film at one point watch the 1924 Arnold Fank silent, black and white short documentary The Cloud Phenomena of Maloja. The technology and aesthetics have changed, but filmmaking keeps on rumbling chaotically along as the images captured become fixed and un-aging objects. 

No matter how many films Assayas makes, he cannot help himself from being a film critic. As with many of the auteur directors of the French New Wave a generation or more before him, he wrote for Cahiers Du Cinema before becoming a hot-shot young director. Throughout his career he has often made films that examine the business, chaos and soul of filmmaking, in France and abroad. Irma Vep had New Wave icon Jean Pierre Leaud playing an addled director who casts Maggie Cheung out the Hong Kong action cinema of Johnnie To and Jackie Chan and dropped her onto a dysfunctional Parisian film set to shoot an avant-garde remake of iconic french serial Les Vampires and Demon Lover wrapped a tangled corporate thriller around the global video and web distribution rights of anime tentacle pornography. 

Regardless of what subjects the director tackles, what is interesting about his cinema is that he has always favoured actors and performances to allow his ideas to flow out onto he screen over cinematography and editing. His films breathe.

Lately, Assayas has been pre-occupied with age and youth, and has left behind, mostly, any genre trappings to make films about the passage of time and how it changes people. In Clouds of Sils Maria, he has Juliette Binoche playing a fictional version of herself named Maria Enders. An actress at a point in her career where she is an international movie who did a stint in Hollywood blockbusters before returning to the European art house and stage. A young director asks her to appear in his revival of the play that made her famous, only this time she will be playing the broken-down wealthy businesswoman part instead of the aggressive and domineering young personal assistant who sexually dominates her boss and the stage. The play in the film bears remarkable similarity to Alain Corneau’s final film, Love Crime (which was recently remade by Brian DePalma as Passion).

The middle portion of Clouds of Sils Maria, the best portion of the film, sees Enders living in isolation in the Swiss mountains, negotiating a messy divorce and occasionally going for a hike, all the while rehearsing the part with her own personal assistant. Kristen Stewart, all tangled hair and random tattoos, exuding the casual confidence and ‘above-it-all’ attitude that often gets the Twilight-actress excoriated by the media and viewing public at Awards shows, delivers a convincing, possibly career best, performance as the personal assistant, Valentine. 

The rehearsals, with Valentine line-reading the younger part while Enders blasts out the older part, starts to mimic the content of the play in subtle ways, only with many more messy complications of life (even in isolation there is Skype and Google) happening around the written-drama. Enders is trying to work out the older part, but cannot shake her desire and her memories of her own younger self. There is the suggestion sexual attraction between Binoche and Stewart (they go skinny dipping in the cold mountain waters at one point) but really it is more about the envy of unfettered freedom of youth, as opposed to the obligation and baggage of age. The same scene indulges the audiences to compare the bodies of Stewart and Binoche, even as the ladies laugh at the cold, cold water they just dove into.

An overly simple read of the film would be that the personal assistant is merely a figment of the actress’s psyche, Assays peppers the visual language of the film with many hints and visual cues:  the notably strange cellphone reception on a train in the films opening sequence; a double-exposed driving sequence when Valentine returns from a sexual tryst with a photographer and vomits on the side of the road. Clouds of Sils Maria would make a curious double-bill with Binoche’s other recent breezy self-reflective puzzle, Certified Copy. You can try to parse the details of what is going on in both films, but really you should just sit back and take in the universal human bits that make both films great. The truth however, that cinema is an object that our own perspective and viewpoint shapes what is perceived to be going on, is the brain of the film, while Juliette Binoche essaying an aging actress grappling with being the object, is the heart. 

The emotionally vulnerable actress is also obsessed with the young tabloid train-wreck who is cast in the role that made Enders famous. A small role occupied by Chloe-Grace Moretz has some fun with TMZ internet celebrity, Hollywood starlets in Europe, and some good old-time paparazzo stalking. There is even a silly, sci-fi action movie created in the film, featuring Moretz’s character that is exposition heavy to the point of hilarity. But watching the boozy  discussion of Ender’s and Valantine on how the ideas and anxieties, clumsily expressed in this sci-fi blockbuster are no different than the pop cinema 50 years ago, only with different wardrobe and trappings. This is not the heart of the film, but it is the director, ever being the critic, allowing the actors to essay his thoughts with their emotions.