Tag Archives: IFC Films

Frances Ha (2012, Noam Baumbach)

Frances Ha relies on exposition but depends on summary. Or it depends on exposition but relies on summary. One or the other. Director and co-writer Baumbach and star and co-writer Greta Gerwig move Frances in the summary. Even when the film slows down for a longer scene, the style and tone don’t really change, so it feels continuous. Time passes–the film takes place over a year or so–but is never particularly defined. Because Gerwig’s Frances doesn’t seem to particularly define time either.

The film’s a fractured character study. Baumbach and Gerwig’s script plays with the narrative distance a lot; they established Gerwig’s character as a somewhat unreliable narrator at the start–using comedic social awkwardness to call into question the degree of the unreliability–but as the film progresses, they further explore that unreliability. The film examines Gerwig, while–for the most part–she’s also the protagonist.

Though it’s not a traditional character study by any means. There’s a decided lack of melodrama, partially because Gerwig and her costars live in a carefree New York City, partially because Frances (film and character) willfully create that carefree New York City. There’s a varying narrative distance to the film’s four locations (New York, Sacramento, Paris, Vassar College) as well, as Gerwig experiences them. As the film moves along, more and more people come into it. Even if they’re background; New York, at the beginning, is entirely focused on Gerwig’s experience of it. In crowded rooms, for instance, the focus is all on Gerwig and the objects of her immediate attention. The film doesn’t show Gerwig around other people. Because she’s living in her head.

The film does have a structure, however. It has chapters with titles. Not the locations but Gerwig’s changing address. The first one doesn’t make much impression, but eventually they become a guide to the film. The narrative distance might be changing, time to adjust your attention. As a director, Baumbach is very intentional. He and cinematographer Sam Levy–shooting in black-and-white–keep a lot out of focus. They let shadows be too dark. They guide the viewer’s eyes, they cause them frustration. But that attention to detail might be surpassed by Jennifer Lame’s transcendent editing. Even when the film is at its most cloying–which isn’t bad, it’s just cute banter comedy, which is cloying for Frances–Lame is able to maintain that summary momentum. Not just the cuts in the actual montage sequences, but the cuts in expository scenes. Lame cuts for actors’ performances, whether they’re in the middle of a monologue or silent in a long shot. It’s a beautifully made film, as well as being utterly gorgeous to watch.

Gerwig’s performance is outstanding. And entirely overshadows the rest of the cast. The inciting action of the film is Gerwig’s best friend and roommate, Mickey Sumner, moving in with someone else. It sets things in motion, the things Gerwig’s aware of and navigating, the things she’s not.

Sumner’s okay. She gets a lot better in the third act, but she’s always okay. Adam Driver and Michael Zegen are Gerwig’s next set of roommates. Driver’s showy, but Zegen’s got a heart of gold. The performances are spot on. No one else really has much to do. Charlotte d’Amboise is the leader of Gerwig’s dance troupe, so she’s got scenes, but they’re all expository. Grace Gummer is another roommate and she’s around for a bit, but she doesn’t get anything significant.

And it’s fine. Because it’s Gerwig’s show. Both as actor and writer, she’s pacing out character development in an almost entirely passive character–in an almost entirely passive film. And she does it. And the filmmaking is there to meet her. Some aspects of Gerwig’s performance work apart from the filmmaking, just as some aspects of the filmmaking work apart from the script. Frances Ha perplexes, but in the best ways.

Truly awesome soundtrack too.

3.5/4★★★½

CREDITS

Directed by Noah Baumbach; written by Baumbach and Greta Gerwig; director of photography, Sam Levy; edited by Jennifer Lame; production designer, Sam Lisenco; produced by Baumbach, Scott Rudin, and Lila Yacoub; released by IFC Films.

Starring Greta Gerwig (Frances), Mickey Sumner (Sophie), Michael Zegen (Benji), Adam Driver (Lev), Grace Gummer (Rachel), Patrick Heusinger (Patch), and Charlotte d’Amboise (Colleen).


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XX/XY (2002, Austin Chick)

XX/XY would be easier to talk about if it were a little bit better or a little bit worse. Director Chick’s structure for the film–a lengthy flashback opening the film, a flash forward with its own three act structure–seems like an enthusiastic mistake and conversation fodder.

Only its not. It’s a calculation on Chick’s part. Whereas the flashback has a wonderful, lyrical style to it, the content’s lame. Mark Ruffalo’s disaffected young commercial animator meets college girls Maya Stange and Kathleen Robertson. He’s supposed to be dating Stange but they’re at Sarah Lawrence and experimental. None of the characters are likable in a sympathetic sense (except maybe Robertson), but Ruffalo has a great time with the part. And Chick’s direction is fantastic. Great editing from William A. Anderson and Pete Beaudreau, great music from The Insects.

Then comes the flash forward to the present day; while the flashback had questionable, cliched dialogue, the stuff in the present simply doesn’t connect. Ruffalo’s performance is all off. The film goes from Chick not knowing how to tell a story about an unsympathetic protagonist to not knowing what to do with him once he’s “grown up.”

But then it turns out XX/XY isn’t a familiar (if sensational) melodrama, it’s got a surprise. And if Chick had just done it straightforward, the film would’ve been something special.

As is, it’s still pretty darn good.

Petra Wright’s amazing performance alone makes XX/XY worth seeing. Nice support from Robertson doesn’t hurt.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Written and directed by Austin Chick; director of photography, Uta Briesewitz; edited by William A. Anderson and Pete Beaudreau; music by The Insects; production designer, Judy Becker; produced by Isen Robbins, Aimee Schoof and Mitchell Robbins; released by IFC Films.

Starring Mark Ruffalo (Coles), Kathleen Robertson (Thea), Maya Stange (Sam), Petra Wright (Claire), Kel O’Neill (Sid), Joshua Spafford (Jonathan), Zach Shaffer (Nick), Joey Kern (Tommy), Evan Neumann (Guy Who Asks for His $ Back), John A. MacKay (Mitchell) and David Thornton (Miles).


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Perfect Sense (2011, David Mackenzie)

Perfect Sense goes out of its way to be an atypical disaster movie. Director Mackenzie and writer Kim Fupz Aakeson’s only significant acknowledgement of genre standards is having one of the protagonists pursue a solution. Except it’s never clear what epidemiologist Eva Green actually does–her job is clear, but what she does in pursuit of a solution is never clear.

Because, instead, Perfect Sense focuses on her relationship with the guy who works at the restaurant near her apartment, Ewan McGregor. Aaekson’s script uses the restaurant as the metaphor for what’s going on in the world as everyone slow but surely loses their senses. Literally.

Mackenzie and editor Jake Roberts do these montages, narrated by Green’s character (but not her), to show world events. They’re beautifully cut, precisely presented. Everything in Perfect Sense is precise. Its ninety minute run time is also essential–so much information is presented, but every small moment needs to carry weight. The viewer can’t be left to wander. Mackenzie controls the experience.

The film simultaneously has to be a Green and Macgregor’s romantic drama while still taking into account these apocalyptic plot points. Only those plot points can’t be overdone because Perfect Sense can’t appear constrained. The meticulousness of the film starts long before Mackenzie’s avoiding action set pieces.

The photography from Giles Nuttgens is fantastic–and Roberts’s editing on the other scenes is great as well. Max Richter’s music is spot on.

And Green and Macgregor are wonderful.

It’s deliberate, considered and successful.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Directed by David Mackenzie; written by Kim Fupz Aakeson; director of photography, Giles Nuttgens; edited by Jake Roberts; music by Max Richter; production designer, Tom Sayer; produced by Gillian Berrie, Tomas Eskilsson and Malte Grunert; released by IFC Films.

Starring Ewan McGregor (Michael), Eva Green (Susan), Ewen Bremner (James), Stephen Dillane (Stephen), Denis Lawson (Boss), Anamaria Marinca (Street Performer), Alastair Mackenzie (Virologist), Katy Engels (Narrator) and Connie Nielsen (Jenny).


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The Pact (2012, Nicholas McCarthy)

For a feature debut, The Pact is an exceptional disappointment from writer and director McCarthy. He’s expanding on his exquisite short of the same name and it’s a flop.

He remakes the short (the Kevin Williamson teaser) and then continues its story, somewhat aware he’s in familiar haunted house territory and not willing to embrace the good things he’s got going.

Sisters Agnes Bruckner and Caity Lotz have recently lost their mother and have to deal with the house, a Southern Californian suburban ranch, and her funeral. Of course, the mother was terribly abusive and so it’s a bad situation. Sadly, we get all this information in the first few minutes, when McCarthy’s remaking his short, because he loves bad expository dialogue. And having Bruckner deliver it? It makes The Pact painful, especially for someone who knows how well McCarthy did with almost literally the same material in the short.

Things get better once Lotz enters the film. McCarthy’s narrative doesn’t, mostly because he keeps adding twists to perturb the plot. As a filmmaker, he’s sublime (his Blow-Up homage is lovely). His composition, his pacing of shots and actors… from a technical angle, The Pact is Hitchcockian.

Sadly, good technical doesn’t make up for grossly lacking narrative.

McCarthy gets a good performance from Lotz. Not great, but good. Similarly Casper Van Dien is good as her cop sidekick (ghost stories don’t need cops). Nice supporting work from Sam Ball and Haley Hudson.

I’m really bummed The Pact isn’t good.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Written and directed by Nicholas McCarthy; director of photography, Bridger Nielson; edited by Adriaan van Zyl; music by Ronen Landa; production designer, Walter Barnett; produced by Ross M. Dinerstein; released by IFC Films.

Starring Caity Lotz (Annie), Agnes Bruckner (Nicole), Kathleen Rose Perkins (Liz), Haley Hudson (Stevie), Sam Ball (Giles) and Casper Van Dien (Bill Creek).


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