Belle de Jour

15 Apr

 

Hard to believe it’s been 50 years since Luis Buñuel’s “Belle de Jour” caused a minor stir by chronicling the soul-searching of a bored Parisian housewife who, for obscure reasons, takes up part-time work as a high-class call girl. Provocative and erotic but never base or graphic, the film’s a deep dive into the psyche of its heroine; entwined in fantasy and fulfillment, the film gives Buñuel, a deft surrealist (“The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie” his signature work), opportunity to reach into his bag of tricks and smudge the edges of reality the way Dalí or Munch might on a canvas.

On the outside Séverine (Catherine Deneuve) has it all: a spacious flat in a nice neighborhood and a classic, good-looking husband by the name of Pierre (Jean Sorel) who works long hours as a surgeon. Everything’s perfect, yet there’s an aloofness and conflict behind her wide, luminescent eyes. The film begins with Pierre and Séverine in a horse-drawn carriage ambling though the countryside when Pierre orders its driver to halt and his assistants to assail her. It’s one of the many fantasies we get from Séverine’s point of view. In another she’s dressed in a virginal white gown and men throw mud and perhaps worse at her – thoughts of Pasolini’s “Salò” well up. 

The carriage bell, the beat of hooves and the mewling of cats work their way mysteriously into scenes within the flat and brothel. What’s it all mean, and what of Séverine‘s masochistic fantasies? A troubled childhood? The desire to break free of a coddled life, yet an unwillingness to jump? A self-destructive bent to feel alive? Perhaps simply the intoxication of strange men in strange places? It’s a tease throughout, and the real-world pairings as arranged by Madame Anais (Geneviève Page) are almost as far out as Séverine’s fantasies, especially the client who demands that she dress up like his recently deceased daughter. Then there’s the gangster who gets freebies on the house, and the obsessed john who follows Séverine home. Ever lurking too is Pierre’s buddy Henri (Michel Piccoli, who has the mug of a mortician) who’s on to Séverine’s game and quite taken by her seeming piety and the wild side just beneath. Séverine outwardly loathes him. “Keep your compliments to yourself,” she tells him.  Continue reading

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You Were Never Really Here

15 Apr

 

Seven years ago Scottish director Lynne Ramsay served notice with the psychological thriller “We Need to Talk About Kevin.” In that film, a family is torn apart by a son’s increasingly disturbed behavior. Things proceed edgily and eventually go off the rails, violently and shockingly. In her latest, “You Were Never Really Here,” audiences don’t have to wait long for an eruption of carnage when an equalizer/hitman is employed to retrieve a state senator’s daughter from a high-end brothel in midtown Manhattan.

If that sounds like the boilerplate to “Taken” or “Taxi Driver,” you’d be right to think so – at least on paper – but for Ramsay, getting at her protagonist’s state of mind and backstory is anything but a linear exercise. In wisps we catch Joe (Joaquin Phoenix) in military fatigues within the confines of a desert encampment feed a candy bar through a chain-link perimeter to a youth who is promptly shot dead by a surprising source. Later, ostensibly in the FBI or some investigative law enforcement unit, Joe uncovers a van full of dead bodies. And then there are the flashbacks to a highly abusive father and Joe’s attempts at suicide via asphyxiation (dry cleaning bags being the impermeable of choice). These images are littered throughout, giving brushstrokes of insight to the enigmatic Joe, bearded, burly and employing the peen end of a hammer to bash his way through his first assignment. To save the senator’s daughter (Ekaterina Samsonov), he employs the same implement – a new one of course, selected carefully from the hanging racks of a Home Depot, Ace Hardware or the like – working his way through the Manhattan brownstone in a more “Old Boy” style than Travis Bickle might consider. Continue reading

11 Apr

‘The Peacemaker’ Shows Another Side Of A Cambridge Pub Owner

Padraig O'Malley, the subject of the new film "The Peacemaker." (Courtesy Central Square Films)closemore

Opening this Friday at the Coolidge Corner Theatre, James Demo’s absorbing documentary “The Peacemaker” boasts plenty of local flavor but also dips into such international hot zones as Israel, Iraq and Nigeria. What begins as a chronicle of a man on a mission, resolves into an intimate portrait of a complex, yet resolute soul who’s gone through a series of life altering transitions — some of which, are none too palatable.

The peace negotiator of the title and man in question, Padraig O’Malley cuts a striking figure. Tall, lanky and in his mid-70s, he’s blessed with a handsome square countenance and steely blue eyes. If there was a casting call for intensity, O’Malley would be exactly what they’d be looking for. Continue reading

7 Apr

 

John Krasinski, that local (Newton) guy from “The Office” whose forays behind the camera have been something of a mixed bag – tackling material from David Foster Wallace in “Brief Interviews with Hideous Men” and the quirks of returning home to small-town America in “The Hollars” – goes for a total change-up here in genre, style and the whole shebang. He’s also grown demonstrably in confidence as a filmmaker, bringing his A-game for an impressive wallop and gets a chance to work with his wife, Emily Blunt, who’s nothing short of fantastic.

“A Quiet Place” drops you into a post-calamity spot that feels all too close, given the current state of division and fear in the country and creeping need to think about how to survive a civilization-crumbling war or sweeping, sudden natural disaster. We catch up with a family out on a scavenging mission to get medicine and supplies. Inside a ransacked pharmacy, they’re all barefoot and don’t speak to each other as they go about their task. Mom (Blunt) picks up and puts down pill vial after vial with all the deliberate care of one of the silent thieves in Jules Dassin’s great heist film, “Rififi” (1955). The lack of spoken communication and the worry etched on the faces of the nuclear-plus family ratchets to a nerve-racking tic. Wandering about on his own, the youngest boy reaches for a toy space shuttle that lights up and beeps, but dad (Krasinski) is fast on the take and in sign language sternly tells him “No.” Outside, they remain silent and walk single file, never veering from the painted white center line of the road. Along their amble through a rural country-scape we see no other humans and soon learn why – after a noise emitted unwittingly by one of the party draws something formidable and fast out from the woods, and the family is suddenly one less. Continue reading

Chappaquiddick

7 Apr

 

 

The infamous 1969 incident that left a woman dead and stunted Ted Kennedy’s political career gets framed in sharp historical and emotional focus by director John Curran (“The Painted Veil”), who goes about the task with an unflinching eye. If it weren’t for the family pedigree and myriad associated tragedies, the film might not find much of an audience beyond those in Massachusetts and old-school Kennedy loyalists, a small niche. Given the game performances and compelling peek behind the curtains, “Chappaquiddick” should register a larger audience based on world of mouth and strength of critical reviews.

What Curran and screenwriters Andrew Logan and Taylor Allen have done smartly, much like the makers of “Jackie” and “Sully,” is to steer away from the headline event (in those cases, the assassination of JFK and the “Miracle on the Hudson”) and home in on the quiet, torturous aftermath. Sure, we see the car driven by Teddy (Jason Clarke) go off the bridge of the Martha Vineyard isle of the film’s title and the young Mary Jo Kopechne (Kate Mara, making the most of a brief, thankless role) struggle to keep breathing as the car fills slowly with water. The film’s not innately adoring of the Kennedys, nor does it seek to bury them. It works the facts and feels meticulously researched, though you can imagine there are alternative sides to some of the more intimate and personal interactions (those between Teddy and Mary Jo in the car and Teddy and his father alone in the Hyannis Port complex). Continue reading

Isle of Dogs

30 Mar

 

 

From the wit of Wes Anderson, the man behind “Rushmore” (1998) and “The Royal Tenenbaums” (2001) comes a stop-motion animation gem that shares as much in common with Anderson’s other such project, “Fabulous Mr. Fox” (2009), as it is a total departure. There’s plenty more canines and perfectly orchestrated animation, and it takes place in a Japan some 20 years in the future and is loaded with small political powder kegs.

Co-written by Anderson, Roman Coppola, Jason Schwartzman and Kunichi Nomura, the action takes place in the aptly if generically named fictional city of Megasaki, where an outbreak of snout fever (dog flu) strikes and the metro’s Mayor Kobayashi (voiced by Nomura with abrupt, macho intonations suggestive of indelible Japanese cinematic icon Toshiro Mifune), banishes all dogs to a “trash island” where waste is carted by unmanned trams across the watery expanse and processed through a series of “Wall-E”-esque automation facilities. The result is an ever-rising mass of neatly stacked cubes of rubbish that take on the effect of tiered stadium seating. No humans, unless in hazmat suits, visit. Continue reading

Ready Player One

30 Mar

‘Ready Player One’: A pop culture pastiche lacking the power-ups it needs to be iconic

 

Geek references and 1980s pop culture abound in “Ready Player One,” an energetic yet hollow outing from the architect of the blockbuster himself, Steven Spielberg. It’s not all for naught, as the adaptation of Ernest Cline’s YA novel set in the dystopian future bears most of the director’s family-friendly fingerprints: a sentimental score (by Alan Silvestri), misunderstood youth, enigmatic happenings and the fantastical infusing the realm of the real – think “E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial” or “Close Encounters of the Third Kind.” And then promptly forget them.

In the year 2045, gaming has become the opium of the masses. Everyone suits up, dons virtual-reality goggles and enters a place in the cloud known as the Oasis, a platform breathed to life by a master game creator named James Halliday (Academy Award winner Mark Rylance), who’s recently passed but has left an Easter egg (apt that it’s being released on the eve of the Paas egg-dyeing holiday) tucked away somewhere in his worldwide video game. The lucky one who finds it takes over Halliday’s Amazon-like empire. Continue reading