Three Colors: Blue (1993, Krzysztof Kieslowski)

From the first few minutes of Blue, the entire thing seems conventional. Not exactly predictable, though it’s often somewhat predictable, but definitely conventional. And when it veers away from being conventional, it soon returns to it. Director Kieslowski figures out punctuation marks to draw the viewer’s attention to lead Juliette Binoche’s conflict and reuses them over and over again.

So maybe Blue is predictable. I guess conventional just sounded like less of a pejorative way of saying it.

Because Kieslowski isn’t trying for conventional. A good portion of the film is really just Binoche suffering after the death of her husband and child and rejecting her need to grieve. She’s forcing herself to persevere and Binoche does a wonderful job showing the conflict. There’s a lot of symbolism for those conflicts too, but Kieslowski offsets them with some fantastic scenes. Binoche’s relationship with her neighbor, sex worker Charlotte Véry, is peculiar and seems like it might lead somewhere interesting.

That lack of interesting destinations is Blue’s biggest problem at the end. Kieslowski wraps everything up rather neatly–shockingly neatly–by the last shot. Even though Binoche’s character tries hard not to lead a generative life anymore, she does. Only Kieslowski doesn’t want to deal with any of those threads for the conclusion.

Blue could have run thirty minutes with the story Kieslowski and Krzysztof Piesiewicz go with. Of course, the story of Binoche’s listless wandering could have taken three hours.

Beautiful photography from Slawomir Idziak. Great acting.

Just… eh.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Directed by Krzysztof Kieslowski; written by Kieslowski, Krzysztof Piesiewicz, Agnieszka Holland, Edward Zebrowski and Slawomir Idziak; director of photography, Slawomir Idziak; edited by Jacques Witta; music by Zbigniew Preisner; production designer, Claude Lenoir; produced by Marin Karmitz; released by MK2 Diffusion.

Starring Juliette Binoche (Julie Vignon – de Courcy), Benoît Régent (Olivier), Florence Pernel (Sandrine), Charlotte Véry (Lucille), Hélène Vincent (La journaliste), Philippe Volter (L’agent immobilier), Claude Duneton (Le médecin) and Emmanuelle Riva (La mère).

Rust and Bone (2012, Jacques Audiard)

Until about eighty minutes into Rust and Bone, the film resists predictability. Director Audiard has a couple moments of Marion Cotillard bouncing back after a tragedy to pop music, but they’re punctuated with fantastic postscripts. The postscripts make up for any melodramatic shorthand.

Well, until the eighty minute mark. And then Rust and Bone becomes cloying. The film’s style doesn’t change–it’s still harsh and bright (with fantastic photography from Stéphane Fontaine)–but the storytelling changes. It stops being a character study of Cotillard, who has dominated the film, and slowly transitions back to Matthias Schoenaerts.

Schoenaerts is an amiable, if numb-skulled, single dad who just can’t seem to do right. From the eighty minute mark until the film’s conclusion, instead of being a character study, Rust becomes a redemption melodrama. A well-directed, well-acted redemption melodrama, but still a redemption melodrama. The final couple predictable moments are shockingly forecasted. Audiard and co-screenwriter Thomas Bidegain inexplicably bring in narration at the end; had they used it throughout and in future tense, the film could not be more predictable.

The worst part about the transition from Cotillard to Schoenaerts is there’s no attempt to share. Audiard and Bidegain had worked out a great balance between the two–Cotillard’s even top-billed–and then they flush it to manipulate the viewer.

Truly great editing from Juliette Welfling. Not in the montages, but in the scenes.

Cotillard and Schoenaerts’s beautiful acting make the film worthwhile. It’s just a narrative mess.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Directed by Jacques Audiard; screenplay by Audiard and Thomas Bidegain, based on a story by Craig Davidson; director of photography, Stéphane Fontaine; edited by Juliette Welfling; music by Alexandre Desplat; production designer, Michel Barthélémy; produced by Audiard, Martine Cassinelli and Pascal Caucheteux; released by Lumière.

Starring Marion Cotillard (Stéphanie), Matthias Schoenaerts (Alain van Versch), Armand Verdure (Sam), Céline Sallette (Louise), Corinne Masiero (Anna), Jean-Michel Correia (Richard) and Bouli Lanners (Martial).

BLT (2013, John Cunningham)

BLT runs twelve minutes. It’s probably about four minutes too long to be effective, since most of the run time is spent with Stephen Molloy (as a successful businessman) lecturing a homeless man, played by Ross Owen Williams. Director Cunningham’s script makes too many value judgments in the dialogue–Molloy’s just too obviously a prat–for the back and forth to seem sincere.

But Molloy and Williams are good and the short’s well-made (Cunningham also edits and photographs, doing well at each); if it were shorter, it might work out.

Because BLT is all about the punchline and the punchline does pay off quite a bit (Cunningham sort of paces out the punchline into three stages).

And Cunningham directs BLT well. He makes it feel real big; the problem’s not the directing. It’s the script–Cunningham’s not building to anything but that punchline. Everything else feels way too forced.

1/3Not Recommended

CREDITS

Edited, photographed, written and directed by John Cunningham; produced by John Cunningham and Rhona Cunningham.

Starring Stephen Molloy (Businessman) and Ross Owen Williams (Homeless Man).

The More the Merrier (1943, George Stevens)

The More the Merrier is a wondrous mix of comedy (both slapstick and screwball) and dramatic, war-time romance. Director Stevens is expert at both–that war-time romance angle is as gentle as can be, with Stevens relying heavily on leads Jean Arthur and Joel McCrea to be able to toggle between both. And they do, ably. Arthur and McCrea have spellbinding chemistry in the film.

But the film doesn’t open with either of them. It opens with–and stays with–Charles Coburn’s character. He’s in town on business (Merrier’s set in Washington DC during the WWII housing shortage) and his series of misadventures, fueled by that fantastic Coburn superiority, gets him a room with Arthur. And, subsequently, McCrea (bunking with Coburn).

The beauty of Coburn’s character is how he too toggles, but between being a slightly absentminded buffoon (he and McCrea’s goof-off scenes together are great) and a really serious businessman.

Meanwhile, Arthur’s got the distraction of McCrea while she deals with her politicking fiancé (and boss) Richard Gaines. Once the flirtation between McCrea and Arthur kicks in, which takes until the second half of the film, Merrier has this glorious new depth to it. Arthur and McCrea are just amazing, which I already said, but it needs to be said again.

Great direction from Stevens–he’s got a number of sublime shots–and photography from Ted Tetzlaff.

Stevens, Arthur, McCrea and Coburn make the film’s dramatic elements superior thanks to the absurdist comedy. It’s brilliant.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Produced and directed by George Stevens; screenplay by Robert Russell, Frank Ross, Richard Flournoy and Lewis R. Foster, based on a story by Russell and Ross; director of photography, Ted Tetzlaff; edited by Otto Meyer; music by Leigh Harline; released by Columbia Pictures.

Starring Jean Arthur (Connie Milligan), Joel McCrea (Joe Carter), Charles Coburn (Benjamin Dingle), Richard Gaines (Charles J. Pendergast), Bruce Bennett (FBI Agent Evans), Frank Sully (FBI Agent Pike), Donald Douglas (FBI Agent Harding), Clyde Fillmore (Senator Noonan) and Stanley Clements (Morton Rodakiewicz).

The Last Days of Peter Bergmann (2013, Ciaran Cassidy)

The Last Days of Peter Bergmann is something of a procedural documentary short. A man, using the alias Peter Bergmann, checks into a hotel in an Irish town. A few days later, he is found dead on a nearby beach. Unable to ascertain his identity, the police use CCTV footage from around town, from the hotel, to try to discover something about the person.

Director Cassidy, a few years later, takes that footage, along with interviews of the people who interacted with the man, and cuts together this strange little film. Cassidy weighs it heavy at the end–there’s a reveal of sorts–but Cassidy keeps Last Days very flat.

The police inspector talks about the haunting quality of the man on all the CCTV footage around town–something David Cantan and Jack Quilligan’s music helps emphasize–but Cassidy has no judgement. There’s no metaphor, no thesis, just the unexplainable.

3/3Highly Recommended

CREDITS

Written and directed by Ciaran Cassidy; director of photography, Kate McCullough; edited by John Murphy; music by David Cantan and Jack Quilligan; produced by Morgan Bushe.

The Honest Date (2014, Jonah Feingold)

The first seventy percent of The Honest Date is reasonably amusing. Director Feingold has his stars–Allyn Morse and David Lowe–bantering, rapid-fire, back and forth, usually about dating mores or pop culture and it works. Lowe is excellent, Morse has maybe one questionable delivery but she’s otherwise really good. They handle all the dialogue and make themselves distinct in body language.

Mind you, it’s in a couple two shots and some close-ups. Feingold has a filter on the short, a very rich black and white, and it’s all effective. There’s old timey music playing. Date succeeds at trying just hard enough to look like it’s trying too hard.

Then Feingold makes a very strange decision for the conclusion and he loses his hold on the film. Sure, it’s only three and a half minutes, but the last third of Date is a complete misfire.

Nice acting though.

1/3Not Recommended

CREDITS

Written and directed by Jonah Feingold; produced by Emily Wolfe.

Starring Allyn Morse (Honest Girl) and David Lowe (Honest Boy).

[FYI] The Stop Button Tenth Anniversary, t-minus twenty-nine days

According to the sidebar countdown widget, The Stop Button turns ten years old in twenty-nine days.

Both of the special projects–“Stopped Buttons” and “Favorites” –are going well. The programming schedule for the “Favorites” podcast is coming along and the formatting changes on “Stopped Buttons” seem to be working out quite well. But there are still a few things I’ve been working on I haven’t announced yet. And even though I’m announcing them now, they’re not all going to be entirely announced.

First, the giveaways. I’ve mentioned the possibility of a DVD giveaway raffle every month. However, instead of sending a copy of The Faculty to someone who does not like The Faculty or, heavens forbid, Man of Steel, I’ve decided to go different route.

There will be a monthly giveaway but all you need to do to get it is send your name and address. Shipping is complimentary. International shipping is complimentary. The monthly giveaway items will be handmade, be made to order and be utterly unique. They might even be tax-deductible as advertising (for me) but don’t worry about that.

And who doesn’t like getting something in the mail.

I will have more information on what exactly these items will be around the first of February. For now, let’s call them “Souvenirs.”

It’s kind of like when you used to send a self-addressed stamped envelope in for something out of the back of a comic book only you don’t have to send a self-addressed stamped envelope… and you don’t get on the mailing list.

You can submit your address here. Mailings will start immediately after #tsb10 does on February 20, 2015.

Second, and more important for the website itself, I’ve decided to do Wednesday programming as well as Monday and Friday. Monday and Friday will remain feature films, still be chosen from the list of recommendations by movielens, which has changed quite a bit since I watched The Searchers.

Wednesdays will be short films, split across four subjects. The four subjects are: nineteen of Buster Keaton’s silent short films, the ten films in Krzysztof Kieślowski’s The Decalogue, the seventeen episodes of the British anthology television series “Journey to the Unknown,” and, finally, Jacques Tati’s short film work, recently released remastered on Blu-ray from Criterion. I have seen and written about one of Tati’s short films already for the site (The School for Postmen), which brings the number down to a perfect six. Fifty-two short films for fifty-two weeks.

The complete list of short films for the Wednesday short subject focus is available here.

I’m planning on jumping from series to series, but series order and production year will be respected.

There’s another scheduled program I’m working on and it’s so surprising I’m waiting until the first post goes live before announcing it. It will be a shock to many long time readers and anyone who even slightly knows me.

And, finally, I am hoping to get to some of the movies people have recommended to me over the last few years. Ones I still have on a list but have not yet watched. That schedule will be entirely dependent on how much available time I have. Even though #tsb10 is planned out, there are room for additions. Just not changes, which is why some of these programs and events are taking a while to confirm.

Cross My Heart (1987, Armyan Bernstein)

Cross My Heart has a significant problem right off. Its gimmick work against the film. The opening scenes establish Annette O’Toole and Martin Short’s leads as they prepare for a date. Each has the help of a second (for exposition’s sake, though it doesn’t make the exposition particularly natural); both actors are appealing, both characters are appealing. The opening scenes set up the viewer knowing the truth about each character, which they plan on hiding from the other.

Hence the title.

Then the date starts. And O’Toole’s really good. She’s often doing these delicate movements while Short’s stuck in a lame romantic comedy. The more she does them, the worse Short gets. The middle of the film is mostly real time on their date and, while his character is believable, Short’s no longer likable. And the film’s gimmick of preparing the viewer in advance backfires. It makes O’Toole the protagonist, which the film isn’t set up to do.

Oddly enough, even though the script’s used up all of its goodwill by three-quarters through, once the actors get to play the characters straight–particularly Short (like I said, O’Toole’s always good)–everything starts working out. The chemistry between the stars is so good, it’s too bad director Bernstein and co-writer Gail Parent wasted so much time on the insincerity (and using it for joke fodder).

Real nice support from Paul Reiser in a small role and nice photography from Thomas Del Ruth.

It’s fine, but the actors deserve more.

2.5/4★★½

CREDITS

Directed by Armyan Bernstein; written by Bernstein and Gail Parent; director of photography, Thomas Del Ruth; edited by Mia Goldman; music by Bruce Broughton; production designer, Lawrence G. Paull; produced by Lawrence Kasdan; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring Martin Short (David), Annette O’Toole (Kathy), Paul Reiser (Bruce), Joanna Kerns (Nancy), Jessica Puscas (Jessica), Corinne Bohrer (Susan) and Lee Arenberg (Parking Attendant).

The Searchers (1956, John Ford)

John Ford is never trying to be discreet with The Searchers, he’s just not willing to talk down to the audience. In the first ten minutes of the film, he and screenwriter Frank S. Nugent quickly establish John Wayne’s character and his relationship with his family. Ford, Nugent, Wayne and the rest of the cast make it clear–one has to wonder what kind of direction Ford gave the actors (Ward Bond in particular)–but there’s no such thing as expository dialogue in The Searchers.

There are a handful of moments where Wayne is talking to someone and he eschews the idea of going into exposition. The one time he does it–right at the end–is with co-star Jeffrey Hunter, whose character has needed some expository explanation the whole time. More than anything else, the film hinges on their relationship. The film positions Hunter and Wayne against one another while they search together for the same thing–kidnapped Natalie Wood. Their differing reasons, never fully explained, and how they collide with each other throughout the search drive the film.

Almost every relationship in the film is complex–Ford gets magnificent performances out of the cast–just because Wayne’s character is so intentionally out of place amongst the settlers. Meanwhile, Hunter goes through a big, quiet character arc. He has some great courtship scenes with Vera Miles, who’s sort of the unspoken third lead.

Beautiful direction, photography from Winton C. Hoch, editing from Jack Murray.

The Searchers is remarkable.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Directed by John Ford; screenplay by Frank S. Nugent, based on the novel by Alan Le May; director of photography, Winton C. Hoch; edited by Jack Murray; music by Max Steiner; released by Warner Bros.

Starring John Wayne (Ethan Edwards), Jeffrey Hunter (Martin Pawley), Vera Miles (Laurie Jorgensen), Ward Bond (Rev. Capt. Samuel Johnston Clayton), Natalie Wood (Debbie Edwards), John Qualen (Lars Jorgensen), Olive Carey (Mrs. Jorgensen), Henry Brandon (Scar), Ken Curtis (Charlie McCorry), Harry Carey Jr. (Brad Jorgensen), Antonio Moreno (Emilio Gabriel Fernandez y Figueroa), Hank Worden (Mose Harper), Beulah Archuletta (Look), Walter Coy (Aaron Edwards), Pippa Scott (Lucy Edwards) and Dorothy Jordan (Martha Edwards).

In the Name of the Father (1993, Jim Sheridan)

In the Name of the Father falls into most true story adaptation traps. It has a really long present action, which is unevenly distributed through the runtime. There’s a framing device introducing Emma Thompson’s appeals lawyer first thing–with her popping in from time to time to remind the viewer of the device. That device helps orient Daniel Day-Lewis as a teenager at the beginning (or just a little older), but it’s still a true story adaptation issue.

And it wouldn’t work without Day-Lewis. Director Sheridan doesn’t seem to enjoy the courtroom moments in the film, making Thompson a side character. Not just a side character, but one without much depth. The role works thanks to Thompson’s sincerity and some effective writing from Sheridan and co-screenwriter Terry George.

The framing device doesn’t cover the film’s entire runtime; eventually the turntable needle catches up in the present action. The flashback is Day-Lewis’s personal growth throughout the film, something Sheridan and Day-Lewis are subtle about. There’s a big moment for changing him, sure (it’s a true story adaptation after all), but the groundwork is already there. Responsibly handling the narrative fallout is where Father distinguishes itself.

The film is always well-acted, whether good guys (Pete Postlethwaite is fantastic as Day-Lewis’s always upright father who ends up falsely imprisoned too) or bad guys (Don Baker and Corin Redgrave).

But Day-Lewis, and the true story, are the whole show. Sheridan expertly facilitates them to their successes.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Produced and directed by Jim Sheridan; screenplay by Sheridan and Terry George, based on a book by Gerry Conlon; director of photography, Peter Biziou; edited by Gerry Hambling; music by Trevor Jones; production designer, Caroline Amies; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring Daniel Day-Lewis (Gerry Conlon), Pete Postlethwaite (Giuseppe Conlon), Emma Thompson (Gareth Peirce), John Lynch (Paul Hill), Corin Redgrave (Robert Dixon), Beatie Edney (Carole Richardson), John Benfield (Chief PO Barker), Paterson Joseph (Benbay), Marie Jones (Sarah Conlon), Gerard McSorley (Detective Pavis), Frank Harper (Ronnie Smalls), Mark Sheppard (Paddy Armstrong) and Don Baker (Joe McAndrew).

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