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

Super 8 or ET: Portrait of a Serial Killer

Elle Fanning and Joel Courtney in J.J. Abrams' Super 8

SPOILER ALERT! – MY WHOLE REVIEW IS ONE BIG SPOILER, SO READ WITH CAUTION!!!!! 
 
Oops…I think even my tongue-in-cheek title is a spoiler of sorts…sorry.  Yes, folks, we have an alien on the premises.

Somewhere Out There I Write a Letter to Sofia Coppola

Stephen Dorff and Elle Fanning share some nice moments in Sofia Coppola's SOMEWHERE.

Somewhere out there a great film awaits Sofia Coppola.  In some parallel universe she’s directing a masterpiece.  But not here.  Not yet.

Somewhere is a film that just is what it is…which is a film about nothing.  Even in interviews, the oft-maligned auteur admits in no uncertain terms that the film is really about nothing.  It’s just about the mood…the moment.  And like all of Sofia Coppola’s films, it grows on you as it languidly progresses.  You get used to the cadence and the ennui, the repetitive imagery, the sometimes uncomfortably sustained shots (oh, imagine what she could do with neo-noir or psychological horror) that ultimately signify the vapid nature of isolating stardom and luxury.  And when the bored movie star (Stephen Dorff, scruffy but agreeable) is temporarily interrupted from his nothingness by his bright and mostly cheery young daughter (Elle Fanning), you get a muted fuzzy feeling, melancholy somewhat, and little bits of humor, embarrassment and do-nothingness fun contribute to a glazed, dreamy atmosphere where you like what you see, you get the feeling, and the mood is alright, baby.  But there’s nothing there.

Which brings me to this…which I touched on in some recent exchanges at Jason Marshall’s excellent Movies over Matter blog and have decided to elaborate on here:

Sofia! Stop writing your own scripts! I know, in the brutal irony of the biz, you won an Oscar for your writing…but you are a natural-born director.  With your screenplays you are stuck going around in circles just like your main character’s Ferrari in the opening shot of your new film.  In the end, he’s driving in a straight line seemingly getting as far away from Hollywood as he can.  I hope that is symbolic of you doing the same thing. Continue reading