Tag Archives: Fox Searchlight Pictures

Hotel Chevalier (2007, Wes Anderson)

It’s wrong to call Hotel Chevalier Anderson’s best film. The end of the film is some of the best work he’s ever done and a lot of the writing is some of the best writing he’s ever done (alone). The dialogue in Chevalier cuts in a way similar to Hemingway (maybe the Paris setting implies it too). It’s fantastic dialogue.

And Chevalier even surmounts one enormous problem–Jason Schwartzman is nowhere near as good in the film as Natalie Portman. Some of it has to do with Anderson’s script–Portman’s character is, in her seven minutes of screen time, probably Anderson’s most developed female character. The idiosyncrasies Anderson fills his features with are present here… but mostly only for Portman. Schwartzman’s character is nowhere near as interesting.

Anderson even manages to make the story universal (even though a plot detail is Schwartzman’s wealth). It’s a stunning, beautiful piece of filmmaking.

3/3Highly Recommended

CREDITS

Written and directed by Wes Anderson; director of photography, Robert D. Yeoman; edited by Vincent Marchand; released by Fox Searchlight.

Starring Jason Schwartzman (Jack Whitman) and Natalie Portman (Jack’s girlfriend).


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Black Swan (2010, Darren Aronofsky)

I hate responding to films like Black Swan because I don’t know where to start.

From the first sequence, Aronofsky defines his approach as singular. Except for that first sequence, he never tries to film a ballet. He’s always filming a ballet performance. But he manages, filming those performances, which he tends to shoot in long shot–approximately the audience’s view of the dancers–to make them the most exquisitely filmic ballet sequences I can remember having ever seen.

While ballet makes up a good portion of the film’s running time, it’s not necessarily a film about the ballet. Until the third act, Aronofsky is making one of the stranger character studies. We spend the entire film with Natalie Portman’s ballerina and I don’t think there’s a single expository conversation involving her. Aronofsky and screenwriters Heyman, Heinz and McLaughlin (given the importance of gender, it was a shock to discover three men wrote the film) offer infrequent insights into Portman’s character. Black Swan is a character study with very few people and a lot of “action” (the ballet scenes); the discovery is gradual.

Saying Portman’s performance here is her best work is misleading. Her previous work never suggested she was capable of such a performance.

Aronofsky holds her in these intense broken moments and brings in Clint Mansell’s beautiful, disturbing score and the film transcends.

Great supporting work from Mila Kunis, Vincent Cassel and Barbara Hershey.

I’ve been waiting nine years for Black Swan and I didn’t even know it.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Darren Aronofsky; written by Mark Heyman, Andres Heinz and John J. McLaughlin, based on a story by Heinz; director of photography, Matthew Libatique; edited by Andrew Weisblum and Kristina Boden; music by Clint Mansell; production designer, Thérèse DePrez; produced by Mike Medavoy, Arnold Messer, Brian Oliver and Scott Franklin; released by Fox Searchlight Pictures.

Starring Natalie Portman (Nina Sayers), Mila Kunis (Lily), Vincent Cassel (Thomas Leroy), Barbara Hershey (Erica Sayers), Winona Ryder (Beth Macintyre), Benjamin Millepied (David) and Ksenia Solo (Veronica).


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The Brothers McMullen (1995, Edward Burns)

The Brothers McMullen is filled with moments of brilliant filmmaking. More than enough. It just doesn’t finish off on one of them. The film needs to go out as strongly as it starts and it comes up short. Burns’s filmmaking is organic (undoubtedly a result of a long filming and imaginative editing) and the ending is far too perfunctory.

Some of the problem with the ending is Burns’s decision to give himself the least interesting role in the film. Even Jack Mulcahy, whose infidelity arc (the three brothers–Burns, Mulcahy and Mike McGlone each have separate crises, which–very nicely–never come together) is somewhat awkward as its mostly an internalized crisis, has more to do than Burns.

Burns’s arc (with Maxine Bahns as his love interest) is basically a romantic comedy with the slapstick removed. It’s very pretty, but it lacks a certain amount of emotional weight. Instead of turning himself into the protagonist–though he allows himself the showiest monologue–Burns gives that role to McGlone. With a nauseating amount of Irish Catholic guilt, the character shouldn’t even be sympathetic, but Burns’s script takes the character on a significant personal journey, all beautifully essayed by McGlone.

His two romantic interests–Shari Albert and Jennifer Jostyn–are both excellent. All of the performances in the film (Connie Britton probably gives the best) are good, though Burns’s direction occasionally leads to unsure moments.

The direction, while consistently excellent, falters whenever there’s a dramatic one shot.

But those quibbles are minor.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Written and directed by Edward Burns; director of photography, Dick Fisher; edited by Fisher; music by Seamus Egan; produced by Burns and Fisher; released by Fox Searchlight Pictures.

Starring Edward Burns (Barry), Mike McGlone (Patrick), Jack Mulcahy (Jack), Connie Britton (Molly), Maxine Bahns (Audry), Elizabeth P. McKay (Ann), Jennifer Jostyn (Leslie) and Shari Albert (Susan).


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THIS FILM IS ALSO DISCUSSED IN SUM UP | EDWARD BURNS.

Blood and Wine (1996, Bob Rafelson)

Boiling them down, three things ruin Blood and Wine. Stephen Dorff, the script and the approach. The last two are complicated, because it’s hard to see determine where the script and the approach differ. Blood and Wine was, at the time of its release, promoted as the conclusion of an informal trilogy for Rafelson and Nicholson–Five Easy Pieces, The King of Marvin Gardens and this one. It isn’t. Blood and Wine is no character study. It’s an attempt at extracting the thriller elements from a film noir. In that aspect, it’s at least interesting. Rafelson gives the characters, who are still essentially archetypes, some more time to become full. Jennifer Lopez gets the most of this attention, playing the femme fatale, only with depth. Lopez’s Cuban accent comes and goes, but her performance is strong more often than it is weak.

Rafelson’s direction is brilliant. Nicholson is great. Judy Davis is great. Michael Caine is astounding–it’s hard to believe he gave this astounding performance then almost immediately started hacking it out. Seeing Dorff with these actors–though the majority of his scenes are with Lopez, who’s far better than he is, but not astronomically–is uncomfortable. Watching Davis (in her, unfortunately, glorified cameo) act opposite him… it’s incredible she was able to keep a straight face. She’s giving this layered, textured, beautiful performance and he’s got less screen presence than a wilted tulip. He’s just awful. Much of Blood and Wine can be spent imagining someone else in his role and how much more successful the film would have turned out.

But it isn’t just Dorff being a terrible actor, it’s how loose the script gets when it concerns he, Davis (as his mother) and Nicholson (as his step-father). Dorff’s an indeterminate, younger than Lopez in the film–at times it seems like he should be a teenager, then he drinks a beer in a bar so it seems like he should be at least twenty-one. The script makes him hostile to Nicholson–and turns him into an adaptive killing machine like Michael Biehn in The Terminator–so Blood and Wine flops when it tries to position the two as some kind of (albeit dysfunctional) father and son.

The scenes where Nicholson is caring for Davis, who he mistreats, are stunning. Or when he and Caine (as his partner in crime) are on a road trip, peerless. The scene where Nicholson cares for the ailing Caine… it’s wonderful. It’s a shame the film acts like Dorff and his romancing of his step-father’s girlfriend Lopez (which fails because Lopez isn’t visibly any older than Dorff) is a better plot thread.

The end of the film–it’s hard to say if Blood and Wine is too long, because it’s entirely too crappy in general by the final third, to really concentrate on assigning specific blame–is a misfire, almost a damning one. I had to force myself to remember how well Rafelson made the film and what beautiful performances sixty percent of the cast turned in.

Both Harold Perrineau and Mike Starr are good in smaller parts–especially Perrineau. Michal Lorenc’s music is wonderful, as is Newton Thomas Sigel’s photography. The editing–from Steven Cohen–occasionally has some bumps, like maybe Rafelson didn’t get enough coverage.

It’s an incredible disappointment.

1/4

CREDITS

Directed by Bob Rafelson; screenplay by Nick Villiers and Alison Cross, based on a story by Villiers and Rafelson; director of photography, Newton Thomas Sigel; edited by Steven Cohen; music by Michal Lorenc; production designer, Richard Sylbert; produced by Jeremy Thomas; released by Fox Searchlight Pictures.

Starring Jack Nicholson (Alex), Stephen Dorff (Jason), Jennifer Lopez (Gabby), Judy Davis (Suzanne), Michael Caine (Vic), Harold Perrineau (Henry), Robyn Peterson (Dina Reese), Mike Starr (Mike) and John Seitz (Mr. Frank Reese).


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