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.

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Cinecast Episode 294 – Gennero-ic

Matt Gamble makes a brief appearance in this episode where he extols upon the virtues of teen witches (and Emma Thompson.) He is also rather confident he knows something about Oscar. Kurt believes only a fool bets against Abe-Frakkin-Lincoln and Matt can Argo-fuck-himself. Andrew discusses the Teal n’ Orange edition of Officer John McClane and his adventures in Mother Russia as Daddy Car-crusher. Another Take this Waltz debate ensues. Kurt also caught an early screening of Park Chan-Wook’s Stoker and despite being under a gag-order, encourages people to flock to the cinema for this unusually stylish blend of Hollywood and Korean aesthetics. A fun and eclectic Watch List including old school mega-epics (Frankly, my dears, we don’t give a damn), Ricky Jay on Henry David Thoreau and dramatic Steve Martin, early Cameron Crowe flirtations ghetto blasters and the IRS troubles, and ends with Andrew trouble with tribulations in his Blindspotting adventures that lead to just a re-watch of Star Trek II.

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


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#DieHard #Spon

 
 
Full show notes are under the seats…
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Trailer: Take This Waltz

 

Sarah Polley’s follow-up drama to Away From Here is really, really good. It is kind of similar in its inevitable, conflicted melancholy tone, but that is perhaps even more jarring due to the young age of the characters. It is also likely the most Toronto-heavy film since Bruce McDonald’s Picture Claire (or perhaps Atom Egoyan’s Chloe) but don’t hold that as a value judgement or comparison! The prop-details right down to the brands of micro-brew and eccentric Toronto neighborhoods, including nostalgia stops and touristy attractions reveal that Take this Waltz making a bid for some seriously textured Canadiana. Consider it all easter eggs for the locals, the movie has crumbling relationships and existential crises of happiness on the brain and certainly at the forefront.

The Leonard Cohen song is covered by Feist, and really, that should blow your mind in some small way (albeit it’s not used in the trailer below.) It’s equal parts Blue Valentine and Closer, and if you are in any way familiar with the tastes of Mike Rot, you will in no way be surprised that it was his favourite TIFF film entry from last year. He politely dragged me to see the film when it played at Canada’s Top 10 2011 retrospective and yea, I’m pretty comfortable saying that is indeed really good (lagging only slightly behind Cafe De Flore and Monsieur Lazhar – a strong year for Canadian Cinema). It’s finally getting a cinema release, and that means we are blessed with this fairly linear and standard bit of advertising below.

Take This Waltz will first come to VOD on May 25th and then get a theatrical release on June 29th.

When Margot (Michelle Williams), 28, meets Daniell (Luke Kirby), their chemistry is intense and immediate. But Margot suppresses her sudden attraction; she is happily married to Lou (Seth Rogan), a cookbook writer. When Margot learns that Daniel lives across the street from them, the certainty about her domestic life shatters. She and Daniel steal moments throughout the steaming Toronto summer, their eroticism heightened by their restraint.

Cinecast Episode 237 – One T or Two?

Well, Gamble’s Back. But after the Thanksgiving Weekend blow-out there is precious little in the way of new releases, making this show a Mega-sized “The Watch List” episode. Before we go there, we delve into our favourite female performances of 2011 (of all shapes and sizes.) One small observation: We talk a lot of documentaries this episode, and go over a lot of TV series; particularly Matt who was laid up with a sports injury for over three weeks and watched a metric tonne of TV/film/etc. The latest from Errol Morris, Werner Herzog, and another go around with Bellflower. Take it away Gamble.

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


 
 

 

To download the show directly, paste the following URL into your favorite downloader:
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Full show notes are under the seats…
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Trailer #2: Shame

Want the heart and soul of Steve McQueen’s second feature, Shame (Kurt’s Review) in 2 minutes? Marvelous editing, it’s like a micro-film in itself. Clearly the ad company have identified the signature scene in the film, one Carey Mulligan crooning New York, New York in a private performance for her brother in the film, played by Micheal Fassbender. Polarizing or not, this one is worth checking out when it drops in an Arthouse near you.

Check out the 2nd US Trailer for Shame, tucked under the seat.
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Cinecast Episode 212 – Jeremy Davies 2.0

 
 
Thor. Is not mentioned once in this show. (To get your Marvel Norse Demigod fix, head on over to the experts at Mamo!) Instead we delve into two road-films of a very different nature. First up, the Oregon Trail meets Gerry in Kelly Reichardt’s wonderfully realized Meek’s Cutoff. We discuss the versatility of young Paul Dano, while praising Michelle Williams, Bruce Greenwood, and the miracle of ambiguous endings. Next up is the vampire-western-post-apocalypse realized in Stakeland. Much love is bestowed on this type of very smart, very sharp genre fare. And Kelly McGillis is in the film, which Andrew is still working his head around. After some batty technical issues, we move along to a few more HotDocs titles, and Kurt’s overall impression of the festival this year. A wee bit more Beauty Day talk, our DVD picks (it is a good week for a change) and finally some Netflix Instant picks in Canada and the US. Old-fashioned tangents (guns, guns, guns!) and other oddball asides litter the good old fashioned style Cinecast you have sitting before you.

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


 
 

 

To download the show directly, paste the following URL into your favorite downloader:
http://rowthree.com/audio/cinecast_11/episode_212.mp3

 
 
Full show notes are under the seats…
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TIFF Review: Meek’s Cutoff

 

 

 

The western art film that is Meek’s Cutoff is a curious concoction, introducing the minimalist sensibilities of Kelly Reichardt’s previous films, Old Joy and Wendy and Lucy, to a canvas wider in scope and historical import. It’s 1845 and Stephen Meek is a for-hire guide leading a handful of immigrant families across the Oregon Trail in search of the American dream. As hours turn into days since their last discovery of fresh water, mutinous thoughts and paranoid rumors abound among the families over the ability and motivations of their delegated leader. “We ain’t lost, we are just finding our way” is Meek’s obtuse reply. The barren landscape is no place for semantics, as desperation takes its course the cutoff they have taken leave them with no choice but to go further into uncharted territory. Along the way a Cayuse Indian enters the story, testing the faith and prejudices of those involved he becomes a potential key to their very survival. Not knowing who to trust while the water reserves dwindle and the desert heat swelters, the settlers wrestle over questions of ethics and necessity. Part suspense story, part historical drama, part meditation on the frailty of life, Meek’s Cutoff is a mesmerizing feat that while slow-moving is continually engrossing to watch.
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Meek’s Cutoff Trailer

The team that brought you Wendy & Lucy are back to entrance you with another, albeit historical, take on the dire Oregon experience. Michelle Williams, Bruce Greenwood, Shirley Henderson and Paul Dano saddle up with writer/director Kelly Reichardt for the art film western, Meek’s Cutoff. I had the opportunity to catch the film at last years Toronto International Film Festival and it handily made my end of the year top ten list.

The year is 1845 and Stephen Meek is a for-hire guide leading a handful of immigrant families across the Oregon Trail in search of the American dream. As hours turn into days since their last discovery of fresh water, mutinous thoughts and paranoid rumors abound among the families over the ability and motivations of their delegated leader. Part suspense story, part historical drama, part meditation on the frailty of life, Meek’s Cutoff is a mesmerizing feat that, while deliberately paced, is continually engrossing to watch. My TIFF review can be read here.

The trailer is tucked under the seat.
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Cinecast Episode 198 – Pickle

 

Two films, different colours in the title and vastly different tones in the filmmaking. Kurt and Andrew dig into relationship (and American Ratings Board) dysfunction with Blue Valentine before Gamble saunters in to talk Michel Gondry and his Green Hornet; a film which takes almost nothing seriously but nevertheless comes across as sporadically entertaining (hmmm, echoes of this podcast). Then Gamble gives a preview of the ‘mildly funny time waster’ No Strings Attached. Other things watched include a little Martin Scorsese, a little Edward Zwick, a little David Mamet magic (featuring Ricky Jay and his 52 Assistants), some Motorohead and Anime before closing with the war in the parking lot, as the goofy yet delightful documentary, The Parking Lot Movie, makes it to Netflix Instant. As always, DVD picks, tangents and other loquacious frivolities await on the Row Three Cinecast.

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


 
 

 

To download the show directly, paste the following URL into your favorite downloader:
http://rowthree.com/audio/cinecast_11/episode_198.mp3

ALTERNATIVE (no music track):
http://rowthree.com/audio/cinecast_11/episode_198-alt.mp3

 
 
Full show notes are under the seats…
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TIFF Review: Blue Valentine

 

 

 

[Now Playing at a Theater near you!]

Quite by accident I had the opportunity to watch back-to-back films at the festival ruminating on the destructive force of love, ignited first in Tracy Wright’s haunting monologue in Trigger, and then extrapolated in fine detail through the anatomy of a divorce that is Blue Valentine.  Director Derek Cianfrance took twelve years to stew on what he wanted to say about love and marriage in his film Blue Valentine, the principle actors, Michelle Williams and Ryan Gosling, had over half a decade to think about how they would bring Cindy and Dean to life – this rare gift to the creative process paid off astoundingly as the final product is second only to Ingmar Bergmans’ Scenes from a Marriage in its capacity to lay bare the wounds of love after the veil of the honeymoon phase has been lifted.  Like in Bergman’s film, the destructive force at play in the marriage of Cindy and Dean is not one of particular abuse or issue but rather emotional illiteracy. Try as they might to understand one another or even have a civil conversation, the lack of a common grammar keeps them perpetually on edge.  Complicating the matter is their mutual love for their daughter who goes through the majority of the film oblivious to the underlying fissures of their family unit.

The film intercuts moments of the first blush of love with scenes of the last gasp and inevitable destruction of their union, the two timelines building towards the harshest of contrasts by the final scene.  This play with chronology is reminiscent of Francois Ozon’s 5×2 and a far, far superior handling of what was attempted in 500 Days of Summer.  Out of this collage of moments a sense of who these people are emerge, the realization is slow in coming as pertinent information about their relationship is teased out, just when you think you understand a character motivation or takes sides on an issue, a new development in the story challenges your assumptions.  The effect is intoxicating.  When Cindy attempts to casually tell Dean of an encounter of a old flame in the liquor store, it’s like the air in the car is slowly escaping, and having not been privy to the history underlying their conversation what you are left with is visceral drama, is he going to lash out? Is she going to burst into tears? The scene teeters on the edge as does the bulk of the denouement. When the fireworks come, literally and figuratively, you know it has been a long time coming. Would you like to know more…?