Saturday, June 03, 2006


GILLES’ WIFE (2004, Frederic Fonteyne, seen in theatre)- what struck me about this film from the get-go was how completely Fonteyne places us in the time and place in which the story is set-a provincial village in the 1930s- not only in terms of how it looks but also the actions and mindsets of his characters. This is key to how the film plays out, because given that the crux of the story is Elisa (Emmanuelle Devos) discovering that her husband is having an affair with her free-willed sister, it would certainly have played out much differently today. But during that time period, what was a good wife to do? According to the social mores, she had chosen her man, and was expected to stand by him regardless of his actions. Divorce was out of the question, and even if she could leave him she had no discernible source of income, having devoted all of her energies to being a devoted wife and mother. The only place she can go to even talk about her problem is church, where the priest advises her to wait it out (and cluelessly assigns her 10 rosaries). The film is unimaginable without Emmanuelle Devos. That she is one of the great actresses in world cinema aside, the film simply could not have worked with a more conventionally pretty leading lady. Devos is certainly beautiful, but in a sweet and off-kilter way- her high brow, upside-down mouth, and heavy-lidded eyes that never appear to look straight ahead give her a look that a man might grow accustomed to, not one that might lead men astray. It’s a face made for cinema, and what she does with it here is simply extraordinary. Even more so than his evocation of the period, Fonteyne’s greatest achievement here is utilizing Devos to her utmost potential, registering every small emotion and fluctuation that plays over her face (I even noticed a pair of beauty marks at the corner of her right eye resembling a tear, quite serendipitous in context). GILLES’ WIFE is a remarkable achievement, both a tragedy of a woman hemmed in by her time and a vehicle for one of the cinema’s great talents. Rating: ***1/2.

X-MEN: THE LAST STAND (2006, Brett Ratner, seen in theatre)- now more than ever do I believe that the X-Men comics are better suited for a television series than a movie franchise- sure, the action is big-screen material, but the real draw of the comics seems to be the characters and the ways they work together. With so many important figures, it’s tough to delve too deeply into most of them, and so beloved mutants like Cyclops and Storm, among others, get lost in the shuffle. Nowhere in the series is this more apparent than in its third and allegedly final installment- with a heap of new mutants and nearly all the returning favorites from the previous films (I for one missed Alan Cumming’s Nightcrawler), there just isn’t enough time to give everyone his or her due while building up to the big action setpiece at the end and resolving everything plot-wise. The result isn’t a disaster (like, say, THE MATRIX REVOLUTIONS), but it doesn’t quite live up to what has come before either. None of the actors really make much of an impact either, although that has as much to do with the compressed running time of the movie as it does with anything else. The best thing I can say about Ratner’s direction is that he’s not really to blame for how the film turned out- it’s adequately directed (of course, Bryan Singer is hardly Hitchcock)- but in the end the film is too bland and reeking of studio commodification to be all that interesting. Rating: **.

THE DA VINCI CODE (2006, Ron Howard, seen in theatre)- I wasn’t really interested in seeing this, but I took my grandmother for her birthday (her choice). I stayed awake through the whole movie, but that could also be attributed to seeing a 12:30 PM show, so I was pretty well-rested. The film itself was too lukewarm to justify all the controversy that has arisen, although I suppose that’s what you get when you turn a story with hot-button elements into a blockbuster, directed by a workmanlike but hardly inspired filmmaker. What the film needed was someone more extreme- either a paranoiac like, say, Oliver Stone, who might have goosed up the conspiracy elements, or someone who might have taken a more spiritual tack with it. Anything to liven up the proceedings, really- Hanks gives his most vanilla performance since, well, ever, Tautou is as opaque as ever (at least Amelie had mischievous eyes), and the movie only springs to life when McKellen and/or Bettany are onscreen. Rating: *1/2.

And now, some short DVD reviews:

OLIVER TWIST (2005, Roman Polanski)- a serviceable Dickens adaptation but rarely more, although certainly of interest as a peek into the director’s own hardscrabble childhood. Wisely Polanski doesn’t attempt to make Oliver an active protagonist, which leaves the real heavy lifting to the supporting cast- particularly Ben Kingsley as Fagin, Jamie Forman as Sykes, and Leanne Rowe as the tart-with-a-heart Nancy. As in THE PIANIST, Allan Starski’s production design is impeccable, managing to work as a place where people live rather than simply a well-designed set. Rating: **1/2.

IN YOUR HANDS (2004, Annette K. Oleson)- (SPOILER WARNING) this Dogma 95 offering feels like a spiritual cousin to BREAKING THE WAVES, with both films focusing on protagonists who are forced to fend off tragedy through unorthodox expressions of faith. Pretty fascinating (and heavy) for most of the running time- I liked the film’s portrayal of the prison in general and the tentative, clandestine relationship between guard and convict in particular- but the final twenty minutes feels oddly truncated, as though Oleson and her co-writers left out some scenes between a key confrontation and a resulting tragedy. Dug the chilly finality of the ending, however. Rating: **1/2.

DOMINO (2005, Tony Scott)- surprisingly, this was even better the second time, with the endless plot twists taking on greater context when I knew where the movie was headed. Aside from the sheer kitchen-sink feel of the movie, the film was most successful for me as an exploration of the way Americans today define themselves through popular culture (Springer as a forum for working-class minorities, 2 Live Crew played at the Sex Addicts meeting, the concept of "Celebrity Hostages," etc.). Naturally, Scott’s hallucinatory style has elicited a lot of hate for the movie, but even if the direction doesn’t work for you there’s too much here to dismiss out of hand. One of the best, and certainly the most misunderstood, Hollywood release of 2005. Rating: ***1/2.

MATCH POINT (2005, Woody Allen)- this on the other hand suffered on second viewing, as the novelty of Allen working in a British setting has worn off. At its best, the film works as a sort of Ripley movie, with all the amorality that implies. However, this amorality requires Allen to stack the deck in favor of Chris (Jonathan Rhys-Meyers), and as a result the other characters are only seen in relation to him. The most obvious example is Scarlett Johansson’s Nola, who morphs from a femme fatale to a shrieking jilted lover almost overnight. By the time the film reaches its final half-hour she has become such an unpleasant character that the film almost seems to welcome her eventually fate. However, even more unfortunate is Allen’s treatment of Chris’ new wife Chloe (Emily Mortimer), who has the potential to be a classic Allen neurotic female but eventually becomes a one-note character, prattling on about wanting to get pregnant. The film is still of interest, but I can’t shake the feeling that the hype had a little something to do with the collective surprise that Allen had a film like this still in him after years of fogeyish Manhattan comedies. Rating: **1/2.


Jason_Alley said...

Hey dude - I just returned from seeing "L'Enfant" and yeah, it was pretty awesome - I loved it too.

Also, you have officially convinced me to give "Domino" another chance when it comes on cable. Admittedly, I remember that I was in a crummy mood when I saw it.

I have a feeling you feel the same way about that movie that I feel about the "Charlie's Angels" movies - that there really is something artistic going on there that no one else recognizes, in addition to the fact that it's just insanely fun, too. So I'll check it out again. I've totally hated movies in the theater and then loved them on video before ("Starship Troopers" for one).

You're still crazy for rating it over "Match Point", though!

Malavika said...

Gilles' wife - I saw it, and felt humiliated, annoyed and disgusted. All the reviews, bar one, that I read post-viewing, were shallow, sketchy and unsatisfactory. Your review has made me review my opinion of the movie somewhat, persuading me to make allowances for the times.
Still disgusting.