Finding Strength to Pass on in The Beguiled and Moka

“I admire your strength,” Corporal John McBurney (a devilishly manipulative Colin Farrell) remarks to the headmistress while under the watchful care of the women and girls of the Farnsworth Seminary for ladies, a bastion of secluded tranquility hiding roiling pent-up emotions during the Civil War. He is an injured Union soldier (or perhaps an AWOL mercenary?) discovered in the woods by the nature-loving Amy (Oona Laurence…a stand-in perhaps for director Sofia Coppola?). They are self-sufficient well-bread Southern Belles shielded from the horrors of war, but full of fanciful imaginings and longing.

“I’m just trying to give them what they need to survive in these times,” Martha Farnsworth (a masterful modicum of repressed anxiety underneath a gauze of stern maternal stoicism as played by Nicole Kidman) replies.

Sofia Coppola’s re-imagining of the Southern gothic potboiler novel by Thomas Cullinan (previously brought to screen in 1971 by Don Siegal and Clint Eastwood) is a lean, mean, beautiful thing streamlined through white lace and steamy moss-strewn environs with seductive Louisiana plantation swamps draped in lush symbolism standing-in for war-torn Virginia. Every single meticulously composed shot…from Amy, both resting and sentinel, on the hulking branch of a giant moss-covered live oak…to ennui-suffering teenager Alicia (Elle Fanning) leaning back in her chair in the streaky sunlight while the younger girls play in the tall grass…to a candlelit dinner darkly roasted with insidious intentions…is like a moving painting. There’s not a single shot directed by Coppola and executed by Philippe Le Sourd wasted here, all ripe with symbolism or moving the plot along. Likewise, sparse to-the-point dialogue (the entire language of the film mirroring the bluntness of Martha’s speaking and pitting it against the flowery antagonism of Corporal McBurney’s invitations) moves everything forward. Music, be it wonderful renditions of the olde-timey standard “Lorna” or the suspenseful ambience of Phoenix’s barely-there musical score, is exactly where it should be and precisely where it’s not. Continue reading

Advertisements

The 5th Annual Davies Awards in Film

A Look Back at 2010:

In 2009, Hollywood went to war and for the most part blew us away if not with the actual quality of their output, with their audacity at least.  In 2010 they took a deep breath and dove back into the shadows and dark alleys of the mind.  It was the year of the Neo-Noir Renaissance.

Beethoven’s Symphony No. 7 (2nd movement) is probably one of the most recognizable and widely used pieces of classical music.  Filmmakers have returned to it over and over again – Tom Hooper just did for the excellent closing montage to The King’s Speech.  But I feel this piece of music represents clearly what the 2010 year in film was all about:  dark, brooding, steady, prone to dramatic swells, often formulaic, but very well crafted.  Tell me you don’t see a bit of the same madness in Carlos Kleiber conducting that we saw in Scorsese, Nolan and Aronofsky directing in 2010.

Unlike most years, it started off like gangbusters with two masters delivering wildly entertaining larks that owed as much debt to their own past efforts at they did to Hitchcock:  Martin Scorsese’s “in your face” Shutter Island and Roman Polanski’s more subtle and refined The Ghost Writer.  The trend towards neo-noir continued and reached its zenith in the summer with two polarizingly opposite films:  Debra Granik’s independent and devilishly simple Winter’s Bone and Christopher Nolan’s wickedly complex mega-blockbuster Inception.  Even some of the heavy-hitters at the end of the year, like Darren Aronofsky’s Black Swan or The Coen Brothers’ True Grit owed some debt to noir.

Overall, it was a solid, consistent year for films and a nice way to kick-off a new decade of cinema.  There was nothing earth-shattering or revolutionary, but there were plenty of reasons to be entertained in 2010… Continue reading

A Review of Tarsem’s “The Fall”

CAPTION:  Mountains and water and trees, oh my!  And funny costumes, too!

The Stuntman, 3 June 2008
8/10
Author: David H. Schleicher from New Jersey, USA

*** This comment may contain spoilers ***

The Fall opens with a disembodied symphony of black and white images done to the tune of Beethoven’s 7th where the beauty is in not fully understanding what you are watching. There’s a train, a bridge, a man in the water, a rope, and the hoisting up of a horse from the river. And there’s one quick shot of actress Karen Haacke, looking shocked and dreadfully beautiful as she (and not yet the audience) realizes what has happened that made my jaw drop.

Some movies, like the Indiana Jones films, are designed to evoke fond feelings from other movies. Then there are films like Tarsem “Don’t Say My Last Name” Singh’s The Fall, which exists to tell a tried and true story with new images we have never seen before. When we last met Tarsem, he gave us the trippy crime flick The Cell in which we were made to feel sympathy for a serial killer who literally became trapped inside Jennifer Lopez’s head–talk about HELL! With The Fall, Tarsem, wanton and reckless, creates a tenuous relationship with the audience as he weaves the tale of broken-hearted silent film era stuntman (Lee Pace) who suffers a severe injury after a foolish stunt (seen in the opening) and forms an unlikely friendship with a migrant farm girl (Catinca Untaru) who broke her arm falling from a tree while picking oranges.

The Fall shares some thematic similarities with Terry Gilliam’s The Adventures of Baron Munchausen and the Polish Brothers’ Northfork as Pace’s character begins to construct an elaborate fantasy world for the little girl to pass the time. The images Tarsem creates are breathtaking, strange, and confounding and like nothing seen in modern cinematic myth-making. The vibrant director uses visual and textural transitions from scene to scene (witness a butterfly turn into an island, or spilled coffee turn into blood) like it’s nobody’s business. The Fall is a true independent film, shot over the course of four years in twenty-eight different countries and funded primarily by Tarsem himself (with some last minute help from contemporaries David Fincher and Spike Jonze). With no CGI alterations, part of the fun is trying to figure out how some of the scenes were shot. Sometimes distracting is trying to determine where they were shot–as I believe one of the scenes was done (is it even possible?) outside India’s Taj Mahal.

There’s sometimes an undercurrent of malevolence in the imagery, and often it is so over-the-top in its pageantry as to become incomprehensible inside the grander scheme of the simple fairy tale. Paradoxically it also reaches the level of silliness as one scene involving the overly dramatic death of a monkey named Wallace had me laughing so hard I almost cried. Meanwhile, the acting verges on amateurish. Justine Waddell in her dual roles as a nurse and princess is stunningly gorgeous but vapid. In the lead role, Pace, ranges from wooden to overly emotional, while the pint-size Untaru is so uncommonly naturalistic one wonders if she even realizes she was playing make-believe. These follies can be forgiven, though, as the movie celebrates the power of imagination and the lore of films. Where else are you going to find a man shot to death with dozens of arrows only to fall on his back and be held suspended by the very instruments of his death? Believe me, the scene is amazing.

The Fall succeeds as a movie for true film buffs. Critics like Roger Ebert, who sincerely love movies and their power to entertain, have raved about it, while others more cynical have dismissed it as a moving coffee-table book of empty modern art. Viewing it as a midweek matinée, I witnessed the only other patrons walk out, while some ushers looking to pass the time, sat in on the last ten minutes, which featured a montage of silent film era stunts that gloriously celebrated the old images that astounded their audiences just as much as Tarsem’s new images attempt to astound us. The ushers seemed to get a mad kick out of it, and so did I.

Originally Published on The Internet Movie Database:

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0460791/usercomments-36