Ode to a Grecian Hitchcock in The Two Faces of January

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In 1960’s Greece, a dapper middle-aged American chap named Chester (a groggy but dashing Viggo Mortensen) on holiday with his trophy bride Colette (an effortlessly alluring Kirsten Dunst) spot a charming but suspicious young fellow (a cool Oscar Isaac) eyeing them at various locales.  Daringly, Collette confronts him while in line at a rest room and finds out he’s an American, too, and a freelance tour guide named Rydel.  Much to her husband’s chagrin, she’s invited Rydel to show them around the markets.  The audience already knows Rydel is a bit of a scam artist, pretending to haggle in Greek with the merchants for his clients and pocketing the difference in price or flim-flamming them during monetary exchanges.  After a night on the town for dinner and drinks, Chester has Rydel all figured out, though he and his wife have been thoroughly charmed by the con man’s company.  Later at their hotel, a private investigator comes searching for Chester and sets off a series of unfortunate events that leave the couple in deep trouble and turning to Rydel for help.

The Two Faces of January deals with the duplicity of human beings and the fragility of their relationships.  It’s adapted from a Patricia Highsmith novel (the author best known for creating the character of Tom Ripley) and is competently scripted and directed by first time helmer Hossein Amini (best known for his sparse and effective Drive screenplay).  With its beautiful travelogue vistas and breezy charm, it echoes the highbrow classiness of a bygone era of filmmaking…suspenseful without being salacious, intriguing without a whiff of trashiness.

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Melancholia, Marriage and the End of the World

Lars Von Trier’s epic ode to depression and the end of the world – perhaps one and the same – opens with Richard Wagner’s Prelude to Tristan and Isolde playing over a series of breathtaking, beautiful and perfectly composed shots that at first appear to be stills until you realize they are moving in ultra slow motion.  With the hauntingly operatic music full of swooning lilts and gasping rises into the stratosphere, Von Trier symbolically (and in some shots literally) transmits what we are about to experience.  The slow motion represents the trudging through emotions while the music elicits thoughts of a great tragedy about to befall us all.  And then boom! – he lays all of his cards right on the table as we watch in simultaneous horror and joy as two worlds collide.  It’s an eerily quiet yet emotionally bombastic counter action to Terence Malick’s creation of the universe sequence in The Tree of Life.  Both films, operating at opposite poles and giving us glimpses into the vast outward expanse of human imagination through the precipitous downward spiral into the mind and madness of one, are miraculous masterpieces.

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Actresses I Would Watch Read a Phone Book…

…or text a Tweet.  Hell, these are the actresses who I would follow on Twitter if I had a Twitter account, though I know they are way too hot and talented to subject themselves to something as belittling as Twitter…right?

This is The Schleicher Spin’s tribute to my favorite lovely ladies of the silver screen.

Who are you favorite actresses?  You know what I’m talking about – the women who are often the only reason you are willing to sit through a film you would otherwise avoid…the women you’d be willing to watch in just about anything.

Well, here are mine:

The Gold Standards of Talent:

The BlondeNaomi Watts

Naomi Watts

British-born, Australian-raised Naomi Watts should put a patent on her American accent because it’s perfect.  Ever since nailing the role of a tortured actress in David Lynch’s Mulholland Drive, Watts has gone against the grain by shunning the limelight, aging naturally and beautifully, and carefully choosing roles over the past decade that put her in a position where she can constantly challenge herself and work with the best directors.  She’s keenly maneuvered the big studio system while keeping one foot firmly placed in the world of independent and avant-garde filmmaking.  Continue reading

A Review of Sofia Coppola’s “Marie Antoinette”

Every year there’s that one film that is unfairly maligned by critics either for its troubling subject matter (like 2004’s underrated Nicole Kidman reincarnation melodrama Birth) or for its unique style that turns off a lot of people…like the film reviewed below.  Sofia Coppola is quickly becoming an auteur you either love or hate.  Her Marie Antoinette (adapted from the book by Antonia Frazer) was recently released on DVD after an undeservedly brief run in theaters this past October.

More than a Trifle…, 27 February 2007
8/10
Author:
David H. Schleicher from New Jersey, USA

From its beguiling star Kirsten Dunst to the maddeningly beautiful locales to the visual sumptuousness and “taste” (you almost feel as if you could eat some of the scenery and clothes) of the costumes and art design, Sofia Coppola’s “Marie Antoinette” is an entrancing and lavish period piece of the highest order.

Many of the early scenes of the Austrian and French woodlands and the palatial splendor of Versailles are cloaked in an almost “otherworldly” austerity, evoking the spirit of Stanley Kubrick’s ultimate costume-drama, “Barry Lyndon.” Later, when our heroine finds some inner piece at the countryside estate she is given as a gift after the birth of her first child, Coppola immerses the viewer in the transcendent splendor of natural sounds and beautiful images that channels the fluid mise-en-scene composition of the best work of Terrence Malick. All of this is tied together by Coppola’s now signature dreamily listless camera play that makes her unlike any other director working today.

In the lead role, Kristen Dunst is mesmerizing. She’s always been a better actress than she’s been given credit for. She’s only previously been allowed to really stretch her acting muscle when she took on the role of Marion Davies in the excellent “Cat’s Meow” and as the emotionally unstable teen in the misguided “Crazy/Beautiful.” Here, without much dialouge, and present in just about every scene, she speaks volumes with her eyes and body language. Coppola only briefly channeled into Dunst’s innate talents in “The Virgin Suicides” and wonderfully fulfills the promise of a fruitful director/actor collaboration that those with a keen eye could divine from their first experiment together.

Of course, those who measure a biopic by its historical accuracies will cry blasphemy at some of the treatment here, most notably the use of new-wave pop music in equal measure with a classical score. Also, the drama of the French Revolution is glossed over spare for the final ten minutes, almost as it it were a side-note in history. The vapidness and decadence of the French Court is Coppola’s focus, as is the alienation of a people from their government, family members from each other, and most importantly a young woman from herself. Though this classic theme of alienation (which permeates many of the great films from Coppola’s father’s contemporaries) seems to be treated here with a softer touch that on the surface paints it as a trifle…the haunting closing scenes of Dunst leaving Versailles behind forever are not without their emotional resonance.

If Coppola delivers us a big hit with her next project, or not too far thereafter…then I suspect in about ten or fifteen years, “Marie Antoinette” will be looked upon far more fondly than it has been thus far. Rightfully its costume design took home an Oscar. If the movie gods smile down upon us, Coppola will have a long fruitful career, and this film will surely be more than just a foot note of her early days.

Originally Published on the Internet Movie Database

http://imdb.com/title/tt0422720/usercomments-384