Loose and impressionistic, this beautifully shot film traces the career of a DJ who pioneered garage music in France. It's not an easy film to engage with, since the characters and situations remain stubbornly undefined by the atmospheric filmmaking. But fans of the music will find the movie mesmerising as director Mia Hansen-Love cleverly recreates the clubbing culture.
The central figure is Paul Vallee (Felix de Givry), who with his buddy Stan (Hugo Conzelmann) forms a DJ duo called Cheers in the early 1990s, adding a "French touch" to the garage sound and developing a friendly rivalry with their pals Thomas and Guy-Man (Vincent Lacoste and Arnaud Azoulay), better known as Daft Punk. Despite gaining success in France, around Europe and even in America, Paul struggles to make a decent living, mainly because all of his money disappears into his drug habit. So he constantly turns to his mother (Arsinee Khanjian) for help. But the real problem for him is loneliness, as his relationships with a series of girlfriends (including Greta Gerwig and Pauline Etienne) fade away. And nearly 20 years years later, he still feels like he hasn't grown up.
The film is assembled with artistry, capturing the period and settings with an earthy realism while the musical beats churn through every scene. And the actors deliver naturalistic performances that draw out a variety of intriguing themes. So it's deeply frustrating that the film's uneven structure develops so little momentum. De Givry is superb as Paul, but there's nothing about him that becomes terribly interesting apart from his musical innovations. He seems to just drift along, never steering his life in any particular direction, neglecting his relationships to concentrate on the music. Oddly, even his cocaine habit seems to barely impact him, apart from the realisation much later on that the world has moved on without him.
Continue reading: Eden Review
An intriguing Chinese box of a movie, this slightly too-clever drama unpicks the layers of identity that are concealed behind the image of a celebrity. It's so knowing that it can't help but find revelatory meaning here and there, and the performances are raw and fascinating. There's also spectacular scenery and some darkly swelling emotions. But the themes are pushed a bit too hard, and the plot is enigmatic and oddly unresolved.
At the centre is Maria (Juliette Binoche), a famous actress who is aware that as she ages she's entering a new phase in her career. She's headed with her personal assistant Val (Kristen Steward) to a special event in Sils-Maria, Switzerland, to honour Wilhelm, the director who made Maria a star. But Wilhelm dies just before they arrive, so the event turns into a memorial instead. At the funeral, theatre director Klaus (Lars Eidinger) approaches Maria about starring in a new version of Wilhelm's iconic play Maloja Snake, which refers to an unusual cloud formation in this Alpine region. But this time Maria would play the older woman, while rising-star Jo-Ann (Chloe Grace Moretz) takes the ingenue role that sparked Maria's career. While Jo-Ann catches headlines for her bad-girl antics, Maria asks Val to help her get a grip on the alien older character she will be playing.
The story spirals out from here with swirling angles of meaning, as the play within the film becomes entangled with the contrasting public and private lives of the celebrities. Thankfully, even though everything is very pointed, the actors deliver remarkably off-handed performances that are very easy to identify with, revealing their characters' private thoughts and insecurities. There is of course also a further meta-level to all of this, as Jo-Ann's paparazzi-baiting lifestyle echoes experiences Stewart herself has had.
Continue reading: Clouds of Sils Maria Review
With unnerving subtlety, this acclaimed Swedish drama takes a startlingly honest look at the underlying fragility of family connections. Pivoting around a split-second of panic, the film mixes earthy honesty and wrenching emotions to explore the pressure of gender roles. It's strikingly well-shot and played with unusual openness by a solid cast. And it's such a razor sharp depiction that it can't help but chill the audience to the bone.
The events unfold in the French Alps, as a Swedish family enjoys a skiing holiday amid spectacular mountain peaks and freshly fallen snow. Then one morning while having breakfast on an outdoor terrace enjoying the view, a controlled avalanche surges far too close for comfort. When the snowy powder settles, it becomes clear that the parents had very different reactions in that moment of fear: Tomas (Johannes Bah Kuhnke) dropped everything and ran, while Ebba (Lisa Loven Kongsli) tried to protect their children Vera and Harry (real siblings Clara and Vincent Wettergren). Suddenly there's a fissure in their relationship, and neither Tomas nor Ebba can cope with the implications, privately beginning to wonder whether their marriage can survive the rest of the week.
Filmmaker Ostlund (Play) explores this heart-stopping event with remarkable complexity, continually shifting the audience's sympathies. Should Tomas be written off for a moment of blind panic? Can Ebba trust him to be there for her and the children when they need him? And as the plot develops, things only become stickier. First, the kids begin acting out as they sense their world is starting to shake. Then Tomas and Ebba turn to their friends (Kristofer Hivju, Fanni Metelius and Karin Myernberg Faber) for advice and support, but only find that things are crumbling further. On the other hand, perhaps if they can find a way to be open with each other there may be some hope yet.
Continue reading: Force Majeure Review
Writer-director Noah Baumbach once again taps into a specific point in life with astute observational skill, even if the plot feels oddly forced. The vividly defined characters continually surprise with their awkward honesty, although this comedy-drama suffers from the contrived plotting of Greenberg (2010) rather than the free-spirited joy of Frances Ha (2012). Still, people on the cusp of middle age will find it hilariously, and worryingly, resonant.
In their early 40s, Josh and Cornelia (Ben Stiller and Naomi Watts) feel like everyone is judging them for not having children. And Josh has the additional pressure that his filmmaking career has stalled: he has nothing to show for eight years spent on his latest documentary. Then they meet 25-year-old aspiring filmmaker Jamie (Adam Driver) and his wife Darby (Amanda Seyfried), who inspire them to recapture their youthful interests in art and culture. Even their sex life begins to perk up. And Jamie encourages Josh to make progress on his movie, just as Jamie gets his own project underway, consulting with Cornelia's well-established filmmaker dad (Charles Grodin). But is this trans-generational friendship appropriate?
The fact that they even wonder that gives away Baumbach's own perspective, especially as he fills the film with witty contrasts that work a little too hard to make the point. For example, Josh collects CDs and DVDs while Jamie collects LPs and VHS tapes. Continual touches like this add lots of clever observational humour, although they also make everything feel a bit cartoonish and over-constructed. Plus of course the nagging sense that there's a right and wrong way these kinds of things should play out. Thankfully the dialogue is fiendishly smart, delivered to perfection by the gifted cast. And it helps that each of the actors are willing to be fairly unlikeable in his or her role, although Stiller is sometimes sent over the top with Josh's inexplicably harsh reactions to everyone around him.
Continue reading: While We're Young Review
For a horror film, this is unusually subtle and disturbing, rather than all-out scary, quietly profiling a creepy central character in ways that are designed to provoke the audience. Yes, this sociopath is realistically sinister, but even more challenging is the way filmmaker Campos deliberately manipulates us with his clever filmmaking. Although we wait in vain for the film to deepen into something more meaningful.
It all takes place in Paris, as Simon (Corbet) arrives from America to recover from a messy break-up. A young academic, he has no difficulty chatting intelligently to strangers, but he hires the hooker Victoria (Diop) for more earthly pleasures. Then he decides that isn't enough, and worms his way into her life, making himself indispensable while encouraging her to blackmail her high-profile clients for cash. When this doesn't go as planned, Simon rekindles a romance with another young woman, Marianne (Rosseau), who isn't quite as susceptible to his charms.
Like Patricia Highsmith's iconic Ripley, Simon is a charmer who has no moral centre at all. So we like him from the start and then become increasingly troubled by his twisted actions. And what makes the film even more intriguing is the way it's impossible to tell whether his motivations are villainous or callous. Corbet plays this perfectly, letting us see Simon's darker attitudes (to him, women are little more than sex objects) and pathetic insecurities. Meanwhile, the actresses make the most of their deliberately under-developed characters.
Continue reading: Simon Killer Review
After going missing for two years, Martha (Olsen) phones her sister Lucy (Paulson) for help, then goes to stay with Lucy and her husband Ted (Dancy) in a lakeside house. Martha says she's been living with a boyfriend, but actually she was in a cult-like commune with her friend Zoe (Krause), working a farm under the leadership of the charismatic Patrick (Hawkes). Renamed Marcy May, she was coaxed into sharing everything there, including her body, and now she's not quite sure what's real and what isn't. And also whether she actually got away.
Continue reading: Martha Marcy May Marlene Review
As always, he creates a stunning visual film experience full of raw, wrenching performances. And he tackles themes that are so big that we're not quite sure what to make of it in the end.
Justine (Dunst) is feeling a bit detached on the day of her wedding to the doting Michael (Alexander Skarsgard), and her brother-in-law John (Sutherland) is annoyed that she's not enjoying the expensive party he's staging. Her sister Claire (Gainsbourg) is more understanding, even when events take a few strange turns. Later, the shattered Justine will become the voice of reason when the planet Melancholia, which has been hiding behind the sun, heads towards Earth in a dramatic fly-by. Now it's Claire who's overwhelmed with moodiness, fearing for her young son (Spurr).
Continue reading: Melancholia Review
Anna (Naomi Watts), George (Tim Roth), and their young son Georgie leave the big city and head up to a secluded, snooty, Hamptons like lakeside. They plan a fun vacation of sailing, golfing, and grilling. Into their life walks Paul (Michael Pitt) and Peter (Brady Corbet), two effete young men who claim to be staying with the next door neighbors. When a tiff over some eggs goes pear-shaped, the family soon finds themselves the subject of inhuman torture -- both physical (golf club to the shin) and psychological (threats, force, manipulation). Seems our lads in white are really full-blown whack jobs, traveling around the exclusive area picking off the residents. To them it's all one big sarcastic game, and the family is going to play... or else.
Continue reading: Funny Games (2008) Review
The reason why I can't recommend Thunderbirds is common in mediocre kids' fare: It offers nothing for the adults playing chaperone, who will be flat-out bored. Frakes and his screenwriters make no attempt to entertain anyone over the age of 13, unless you find stuttering and bad teeth uproarious. If ever there was a movie meant for DVD, this is it. Mom can pay the bills or read a book in the living room, as the kids argue over how cool it would be to ride one of the Thunderbirds.
Continue reading: Thunderbirds Review