Tag Archives: Studio Canal

My Blueberry Nights (2007, Wong Kar-wai)

I wonder what the reaction to My Blueberry Nights would have been if it were Wong Kar-wai’s first film instead of just his first English language film. Everything I’ve seen in way of critical reaction is polite, when it really ought to be anything but. My Blueberry Nights suggests a filmmaker for sale–nothing in Wong’s other work ever even suggested he’d write such an atrocious screenplay. He usually goes a long way to cast a film well, but here… Norah Jones is utterly incapable of acting. It’s more amateurish than a carpet commercial on a UHF station. The frequent use of her music is annoying as well–it makes the whole thing seem like nothing more than an advertisement for her.

It doesn’t help the opening also relies heavily on Jude Law. Law’s better than Jones, but his abject lack of character is a significant problem. Wong seems to want to imply character depth and apparently for no reason other than style. Even David Strathairn, spitting out the awkward dialogue, does nothing but remind of the superior filmmakers he’s worked with. Comparing this film to Sayles or–and I think this comparison is more intentional–Jarmusch reveals just what’s missing in My Blueberry Nights.

Wong’s always told these wonderfully subtle stories about people–even with all the style, they’re very quiet and reserved. Here, there isn’t even a story, there’s a blurb. An easy synopsis. Some catch phrases and keywords to describe the film.

Besides the awkward transitions, Wong’s composition is excellent. His use of Panavision is nice, Darius Khondji’s colors are lush and vibrant–especially the blues–the music, always something Wong uses to good effect, is poorly chosen. It’s kind of loud, rather obnoxious and definitely obvious.

It’s pretty clear what’s going on with the film. It’s hip. It’s Wong Kar-wai making a film for, I guess, what he perceives to be his English-speaking audience–a bunch of illiterate hipsters.

What’s particularly offending about the film is how much worse it gets as it goes. There’s voiceovers from Law and Jones–and if Jones can’t act a scene, listening her trying to narrate one is even worse. There’s some dumb title cards informing the viewer how long it’s been since the first scene in the present action. But the more interesting story is left untold (Jones hops from New York to Memphis after some long period of time). Wong has no sense of his characters here and he’s trying to make a movie about America, but somehow has almost no sense of it.

What Wong’s doing isn’t pretentious, it’s just bad. The acting’s bad, the plot’s bad, the dialogue’s bad, the music’s bad. If he had good actors, it’d still be bad. The creative impulse behind My Blueberry Nights decidedly lacks any artistry.

I don’t think any other director has ever had such a plummet in quality moving from one film market to another. I used to wait for Wong to make an American film… and now I’m left wondering if he’ll ever be able to make a good film again. My Blueberry Nights is so appalling, it’s hard to believe he ever will again–and I certainly hope he never does another English language project.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Wong Kar-wai; written by Wong and Lawrence Block, based on a story by Wong; director of photography, Darius Khondji; edited by William Chang; music by Ry Cooder; production designer, Chang; produced by Wong, Jacky Pang Yee Wah, Wei Wang, Stéphane Kooshmanian and Jean-Louis Piel; released by Studio Canal.

Starring Norah Jones (Elizabeth), Jude Law (Jeremy), David Strathairn (Arnie), Rachel Weisz (Sue Lynne), Natalie Portman (Leslie), Cat Power (Katya) and Frankie Faison (Travis).


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Olga’s Chignon (2002, Jérôme Bonnell)

I think this film is the one of the best films Woody Allen never made.

I don’t talk about it much, or ever, since I watched all of Allen’s films long before The Stop Button, but there are some distinct Allen formats and he never seems to mix them. Olga’s Chignon mixes them a little–it’s never as depressing as Allen’s depressing films–and it’s never as playful as his most playful entries get.

Except for the end, which sort of stops, leaving a number of characters unresolved simply because the third act concentrated on two of the four main characters. The conclusion is well-handled enough, however, that I can forgive some of it. It’s just when you introduce your thesis at the last minute, it makes a lot of the previous story setting instead of important.

Bonnell’s young, twenty-eight, and Olga’s Chignon is an impressive debut for someone that age. As much as he concentrates on the writing, his directing is the most important part of the film. He holds scenes a few seconds longer than you except, giving the viewer time to reflect on what he or she has just seen. It’s a literary equivalent to ‘white space’ in short stories, expect ‘white space’ is sometimes used to display change in time, and fade outs are the traditional film device. Except fade outs don’t let you reflect. The only other film I can think of that does this is Horse Thief.

Olga’s Chignon is also my first French family drama and it’s set an incredible standard. Bonnell’s got a new film this year, but Olga never made it to the US (thankfully Nicheflix has it), so I’ll have to track that down somehow. Based on this film, of course, getting slaughtered with a UK exchange rate would likely be worth it.

3.5/4★★★½

CREDITS

Written and directed by Jérôme Bonnell; director of photography, Pascal Lagriffoul; edited by Benoît Bechet; produced by Arnaud De Battice, Joël Farges, Sylvain Goldberg and Elise Jalladeau; released by Studio Canal.

Starring Hubert Benhamdine (Julien), Nathalie Boutefeu (Alice), Florence Loiret (Emma), Serge Riaboukine (Gilles), Marc Citti (Pascal), Antoine Goldet (Basile), Valérie Stroh (Nicole), Clotilde Hesme (Marion) and Jean-Michel Portal (Grégoire).


Speaking of Sex (2001, John McNaughton)

Let me annotate the opening cast crawl with my thoughts at the time….

James Spader–great, love him on “Boston Legal.”

Melora Walters–from Magnolia, love her, she’s in nothing.

Jay Mohr–liked him in Picture Perfect when I saw it, now can’t believe I liked it…

Catherine O’Hara, Bill Murray… solid people.

So what happened? It’s actually not all John McNaughton’s fault, which is a big thing to say. I mean, I loved McNaughton when I was sixteen. He did Mad Dog and Glory and that film is a great “adult” film to appreciate when you’re sixteen. Especially if you love Richard Price. Then he did Normal Life, back when having Ashley Judd in a film meant good things, and I waited years to see it. It premiered on video and it sucked. It was terrible.

McNaughton’s direction is fine, though it’s the modern “comedy” directing that comes from commercials. The script is awful and the performances are awful. Spader is playing his character from Mannequin or something. Walters is awful and it pains me to say that. Mohr was fine.

Lara Flynn Boyle shows up and a lot of the weight of the first eight minutes is put on her. She can handle weight for about… no, I’m wrong. She can’t handle any weight.

I rented Speaking of Sex from Nicheflix and it’s probably the first film from there I’ve turned off. It’s never gotten a US or UK release and the DVD is from Germany. The Germans appear to have no taste in cinema, which is painfully obvious. I’m not sure Germany has produced a decent film since Das Boot. That’s twenty-two years.

And it was a TV mini-series.

So, all that excitement I had for the first three minutes, all that promise Speaking of Sex got from its cast, it’s all disappeared and I’m reminded of those fond days when I wanted to hide my head under a rock for ever saying nice things about McNaughton.

Sometimes, you find a jewel in a film that’s unappreciated in its country of origin. Sometimes you find a beautifully cast turd. And Speaking of Sex is a big turd.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by John McNaughton; written by Gary Tieche; director of photography, Ralf D. Bode; edited by Elena Maganini; music by George S. Clinton; production designer, Joseph T. Garrity; produced by Alain Sarde and Rob Scheidlinger; released by Studio Canal.

Starring James Spader (Dr. Roger Klink), Melora Walters (Melinda), Jay Mohr (Dan), Nathaniel Arcand (Calvin), Megan Mullally (Jennifer Klink), Lara Flynn Boyle (Dr. Emily Paige), Catherine O’Hara (Connie Barker) and Bill Murray (Ezri Stovall).