Highly anticipated ‘The Girl on the Train’ ultimately derails

By Mike Wilmington

THE GIRL ON THE TRAIN is a chic romantic crime thriller in the “GONE GIRL” mode — but not as engrossing or gripping, nor as packed with interesting characters and wicked plot twists. Mainstream audiences should like it, but most of them probably won’t love it (as they did with the book) or become obsessed with it, the way they might with, say, Hitchcock‘s train-riding masterpiece, STRANGERS ON A TRAIN. Unlike the Gillian Flynn-penned bestseller TRAIN tends to resemble, or the David Fincher-directed suspenser based on Flynn’s book, THE GIRL ON THE TRAIN tends to be more ordinary and less icily compelling.

Writer Paula Hawkins’ bestseller is about a woman whose life falls apart and who becomes a hard-drinking, train-riding voyeur, spying on what she imagines to be the perfect lives lived by the two couples she regularly watches from her commuter train windows. Rachel Watson (played by the eye-catchingly beautiful Britisher Emily Blunt), has lost her husband Tom (played by the disturbing Justin Theroux) to a pretty little blonde, Anna (played by Swedish stunner Rebecca Ferguson).

Macho man Scott Hipwell (Luke Evans) sees his world fall apart when his wife Megan (Haley Bennett) goes missing.

Macho man Scott Hipwell (Luke Evans) sees his world fall apart when his wife Megan (Haley Bennett) goes missing.

Rachel, besides drinking herself silly, also spies on another couple, just a few houses down from Tom and Anna, two others she imagines are leading lives of golden joy: macho man Scott Hipwell (Welshman Luke Evans) and another pretty little blonde, Megan (Haley Bennett).

Also involved in this peeping Tom’s delight of a tale is Megan’s sexy shrink, Dr. Kamal Abdic (played by Edgar Ramirez) – and Rachel’s friend Kathy (Laura Prepon), who’s putting her pal up and forgives all her rotten behavior. Soon Rachel has plunged into what might be a nightmare of infidelity and possible murder.

GONE GIRL was an incredibly clever thriller with an incredibly tricky plot. THE GIRL ON THE TRAIN is not too clever, not too tricky. Director Tate Taylor (who made the humanistic Southern family drama THE HELP) and screenwriter Erin Cressida Wilson (SECRETARY), have changed the background from London (in the book), to New York and the Westchester suburbs, and maybe they’ve lost something in the switch.

Emily Blunt is a real camera-stealer, but her character has been written (at first) as such a pain-in-the-ass, that it’s hard to feel much sympathy for her. The surprise ending isn’t very surprising. Only Danny Elfman’s Bernard Herrmanneque score (justly praised by Hollywood reporter’s Todd McCarthy), achieves excellence in the style department. And only Allison Janney, in a fine sardonic “Law and Order-ish” turn (she’d be a good match for the late Jerry Orbach’s Lenny Brisco) has crafted much of an engaging character.

The screenplay is just about what you’d expect and Taylor’s direction doesn’t rise above the ordinary either. THE GIRL ON THE TRAIN may have been a great read on the airplane (or on the train), but the movie made me want to watch something else, out the window.

Unfortunately, I was in a theater at the time.

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Remembering Marilyn’s charm, talent, happiness and heartbreak

Marilyn Monroe (June 1, 1926-Aug. 5, 1962) will be honored at a memorial service on Monday, Aug. 5, in Westwood.

Born and raised in Los Angeles, Marilyn modeled to support herself.

Bugs. Dogs. God. Since childhood, she was quick to ask questions about the everyday and the esoteric. This little girl named Norma Jean, as curious and proud as she was lonely and neglected, grew up to be Marilyn Monroe, the world’s most iconic and enduring sex symbol. Her love affair with the public still burns bright more than 50 years after her death on Aug. 5, 1962. She was 36.

Perhaps she sought answers and collected facts as a distraction from the grinding poverty and desperate uncertainty she faced as a kid. Her mother, Gladys, who fought bouts of mental illness, was unable to take care of her and her father had long been absent from their lives.

Norma Jean bounced between friends’ places and foster homes in Los Angeles. She was treated poorly for the most part, made to bathe in dirty water, molested by a man named Mr. Kimmel, pushed into marriage at 16 to Jim Dougherty, whom she barely knew, to avoid returning to the orphanage.

She was physically as well as intellectually precocious, fully developed by 12, and she knew her looks would open doors for her. There was a way, she believed, she could parlay her games of make believe into something refined, meaningful and artistic. If she got training and made the right connections, she could escape from her harrowing childhood.

“The truth was that with all my lipstick and mascara and precocious curves, I was as unsensual as a fossil. But I seemed to affect people quite otherwise.” — MM on her school days

Groucho Marx described Marilyn as Mae West, Theda Bara and Little Bo Peep all rolled into one.

“In Hollywood a girl’s virtue is much less important than her hair-do.” — MM

“After a few months, I learned how to reduce the boredom [at a Hollywood party] considerably. This was to arrive around two hours late.” — MM

As a struggling model and actress, Marilyn would spend Sundays at Union Station in downtown Los Angeles, watching people walk from the trains to be greeted, hugged and kissed, wondering what it would feel like to be cared about, to be missed and wanted.

“I could never be attracted to a man who had perfect teeth. I don’t know why, but I have always been attracted to men who wore glasses.” — MM

She got a few small parts in the pictures, studied acting and attended Hollywood parties, carefully crossing her legs to hide the holes in her nylons, quietly watching other guests play cards and win money.

“When the men laughed and pocketed the thousands of dollars of winnings as if they were made of tissue paper, I remembered my Aunt Grace and me waiting in line at the Holmes Bakery to buy a sackful of stale bread for a quarter to live on a whole week,” she recalled in her memoir (co-written with Ben Hecht), “My Story.”

The studio suits weren’t encouraging. Darryl Zanuck and Dore Schary told her that she was unphotogenic, that she didn’t have the right look. She persevered. Eventually, it was her enraptured fans (she garnered 7,000 letters a week) who fueled her fame and propelled her rise to the top. “I knew I belonged to the public and to the world, not because I was talented or even beautiful but because I had never belonged to anything or anyone else.”

“We were the prettiest tribe of panhandlers that ever overran a town.” — MM on her early years as a Hollywood actress.

One of her most important movies, early on, was a film noir: “The Asphalt Jungle” (1950, John Huston). “Don’t Bother to Knock” (1952, Roy Ward Baker) and “Niagara” (1953, Henry Hathaway) also showcased her talent for playing dark, dangerous women.

The studio pushed her toward lighter fare – musicals and comedies – where she played frothy flirts and bubble-headed gold diggers: “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes” (1953, Howard Hawks), “How to Marry a Millionaire” (1953, Jean Negulesco) and “There’s No Business Like Show Business” (1954, Walter Lang).

Marilyn pushed back, wanting more complex parts and sometimes she got them. She teamed up with some of Hollywood’s greatest directors: Huston, Hawks, Otto Preminger in “River of No Return” (1954), Joshua Logan in “Bus Stop” (1956), twice with Billy Wilder, in 1955’s “The Seven Year Itch” and four years later in the black-comedy classic “Some Like It Hot.”

In 1960, she worked with George Cukor in “Let’s Make Love.” Cukor also directed her in the unfinished “Something’s Got to Give” (1962). She co-starred with Sir Laurence Olivier (he also directed) in “The Prince and the Showgirl” (1957) and earned acclaim for her work, especially from European critics.

“In a daydream you jump over facts as easily as a cat jumps over a fence.” — MM

It was choreographer Jack Cole’s idea to pair pink and red in the color scheme of 1953’s “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes.”

Marilyn was the favorite movie actress of the French philosopher/novelist/playwright Jean-Paul Sartre, and he wrote the lead female part in his original script “Freud” (1962) for her. (Susannah York played it.)

“I’ve often stood silent at a party for hours listening to my movie idols turn into dull and little people.” — MM

Her boyfriends reportedly included Marlon Brando, Frank Sinatra, Elia Kazan, Orson Welles, Yves Montand, John F. Kennedy and Robert Kennedy; her best girlfriend (and one-time roommate) was Shelley Winters. During the height of her fame, Marilyn married two more times – to Yankee baseball great Joe DiMaggio (January-October 1954) and to playwright Arthur Miller (1956-1961).

Miller wrote “The Misfits” (1961) for her. In that ill-fated film, Marilyn co-starred with Clark Gable, the movie star she’d so often pretended was her father, and was directed by Huston, whom she considered a genius. During the arduous shoot in the Nevada desert, the Monroe-Miller marriage came apart. Gable died from a heart attack days after the filming ended. Said Huston of Marilyn: “She went right down into her own personal experience for everything, reached down and pulled something out of herself that was unique and extraordinary. She had no techniques. It was all the truth, it was only Marilyn.”

Marilyn once implored a LIFE reporter: “Please don’t make me a joke.”

Her vulnerability and little-girl-lost quality, coupled with her stunning looks and glamour, are often cited as the reasons for her widespread, lasting appeal.

There’s no doubt she faced a litany of lingering problems: a family history of mental illness; emotional instability and physical maladies; a dependency on drugs and alcohol; endometriosis, abortions and miscarriages; difficulty remembering lines and showing up on time; broken marriages and failed affairs as well as frustration and fights with 20th Century-Fox (the studio refused to let her see scripts in advance of a shoot, then relented).

Some of her early work is slightly cloying – the breathy voice a little too mannered, her demeanor a little forced. And despite critical recognition for “Bus Stop,” “Prince” and “Some Like It Hot,” she remained pigeonholed as a blonde bombshell, a sexy joke.

“When you’re a failure in Hollywood – that’s like starving to death outside a banquet hall with the smells of filet mignon driving you crazy.” — MM

Orry-Kelly designed Marilyn’s clothes in “Some Like It Hot.”

“When you’re broke and a nobody and a man tells you that you have the makings of a star, he becomes a genius in your eyes.” — MM

Marilyn’s marriage to playwright Arthur Miller came apart while making “The Misfits.” Co-star Clark Gable died days after shooting ended.

Yet it was her precise and subtle comic timing that set her apart from other actresses. As Wilder put it: “She was an absolute genius as a comic actress, with an extraordinary sense for comic dialogue. … Nobody else is in that orbit; everyone else is earthbound by comparison.”

“To love without hope is a sad thing for the heart.” — MM

Humor was likely a coping mechanism she’d honed in an effort to ward off the crushing emptiness she’d known since childhood. Norma Jean saw movies again and again at Hollywood theaters; play-acting with other kids, she thought up the good stuff, the drama.

Marilyn liked her body and, some days, she enjoyed the attention she got from her looks. But she also gave the impression that her beauty could be swiftly forgotten, that she got bored too fast to dwell on her appearance. Underneath the surface, right alongside the troubled soul, was a well of pure bliss that wasn’t hard to reach, if she had a receptive audience, whether it was a likeminded bookworm friend or a movie palace packed with people.

When the fantasy was in full, giddy swing, she laughed sweetly and cynically, sometimes at herself. She could be funny with a look, a gesture or a makeshift prop – sparking joy from nothing at all.

Sir Laurence Olivier said of Marilyn: ”Look at that face – she could be five years old.”

Photographers include: George Barris, Richard Avedon, Philippe Halsman, Milton Greene, Sam Shaw and Bert Stern.

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Stanwyck shines in ‘Crime of Passion’

Today is Barbara Stanwyck’s birthday! Stanwyck (July 16, 1907 – Jan. 20, 1990) ranks as one of film noir’s most important actresses, having played perhaps the greatest femme fatale of all, Phyllis Dietrichson in “Double Indemnity.”

Always popular with audiences and admired by colleagues for her uncommon intelligence, versatility and professionalism, she also starred in “The Strange Love of Martha Ivers,” “The Two Mrs. Carrolls” “Sorry, Wrong Number,” “The File on Thelma Jordon,” “No Man of Her Own,” “The Furies,” “Clash by Night,” “Jeopardy,” “Witness to Murder” and “Crime of Passion.”

Crime of Passion/1957/United Artists/84 min.

Aah, how often has Film Noir Blonde fantasized about giving up her dreary day-job. If only she had a lackadaisical husband whose career needed a jumpstart, she’d quite happily quit writing and meddle in his affairs full time. In director Gerd Oswald’s “Crime of Passion” (1957), Kathy Ferguson Doyle (Barbara Stanwyck) makes that noble sacrifice for her hubby.

Police Lt. Bill Doyle (Sterling Hayden) is go-along, get-along, but that’s OK. His wife Kathy (Barbara Stanwyck) has more than enough ambition for both of them.

Kathy is a tough, high-profile advice columnist for a San Francisco newspaper. She’s also a singleton who’s stylish, smart and openly defiant to the male chauvinists in her social circle. She loves dishing out wisdom and doesn’t consider herself lovelorn or lonely-hearted, dismissing marriage and family as “propaganda not for me.” (An interesting turn of phrase from writer Jo Eisinger.)

That’s before Kathy meets her blonde Adonis, aka Police Lt. Bill Doyle (Sterling Hayden), who comes to town with the Los Angeles police as they expand their search for a criminal. Kathy helps them by putting a plea for surrender in her column. The cops nail the killer and Kathy gets a job offer from a New York paper. Alas, she never makes it to NYC because she’s fallen head over heels for Bill. The idea of them moving east for her career doesn’t occur to anyone, even Kathy.

Shortly into their relationship, Kathy has an OMG-what-did-I-do-last-night? moment and asks Bill: “Who are you? Who are you?” Next she peppers him with questions, like “What are your favorite colors?” In fact, what she did was get married. Yep, just like that.

Kathy can barely contain her frustration with the dim-witted convo.

Kathy quits writing, moves to LA and tries to become a dutiful wife. “I hope all your socks have holes in them and I can sit for hours and hours darning them,” she gushes to Bill.

Unfortunately, however, Kathy seriously overrated the appeal of darning socks for hours at a time (shocker) and becomes darn bored.

At social gatherings, she gets stuck chatting with the ladies about cream cheese and olives, and 36-inch TVs. Not exactly thrilling stuff and Kathy starts to go a little crazy. OK, a lot a crazy. (Note to self: Before ditching my drivel-writing, check that husband has cool friends to hang with or at least lives near good shopping and spa treatments.)

To occupy her brain, Kathy engineers a series of stunts to accelerate Bill’s ascent on the career ladder. She befriends the police inspector’s wife Alice Pope (Fay Wray) and does her best to sabotage Bill’s competition, captain Charlie Alidos (Royal Dano). His annoying wife Sara (Virginia Grey) relentlessly promotes her mate, but she’s no match for Kathy.

That just leaves the job of getting the big cheese, police inspector Tony Pope (Raymond Burr), to rally behind Bill. So, she has a fling with Tony, natch. The only problem is that when Tony decides he’s made a mistake, the unlikely lovers don’t see eye to eye, and she grabs a gun …

German-born Gerd Oswald, the son of director Richard Oswald, made his first foray into the noir genre with 1956’s “A Kiss Before Dying” and worked with Anita Ekberg on three noir movies. He also directed “The Outer Limits” and “The Fugitive” TV shows. “Crime of Passion” may not be the director’s finest film, but it’s still strong storytelling – well paced with compelling performances and visually engaging cinematography by Joseph LaShelle. Stanwyck was 50 and Hayden 41; it’s fun to watch these two old pros reeling off their lines and riffing with Burr, of “Perry Mason” TV fame.

I’ve seen some harsh online assessments of “Crime of Passion.” Sure, it has its flaws (55 years later, parts of it might seem stilted and corny) but it’s still a lot of fun and has some pretty biting social commentary to boot.

If you judge a work of art (or entertainment) from the past by contemporary standards, it’s easy for it to fail. A girdle from 1957 didn’t have Lycra; that doesn’t mean it didn’t do the job.

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TCM Classic Film Festival dazzles Hollywood once more

Get your Kleenex ready.

The theme of this year’s TCM Classic Film Festival is Moving Pictures and, according to senior vice president of programming Charlie Tabesh, that means movies that make you cry. Speaking at Wednesday’s press conference, Tabesh added that he was particularly looking forward to “The Passion of Joan of Arc” and “Cinema Paradiso.”

Tabesh was joined on the panel by TCM host Ben Mankiewicz, general manager Jennifer Dorian and festival managing director Genevieve McGillicuddy. The fest runs Thursday through Sunday in Hollywood.

The hottest film-noir ticket is “The Manchurian Candidate” on Friday night. Angela Lansbury will attend the screening.

The hottest film-noir ticket is “The Manchurian Candidate” on Friday night. Angela Lansbury will attend the screening.

While films about religion, sports and animals fit nicely with that emotional theme, film noir doesn’t mesh quite as naturally. But our friends at TCM would never leave noiristas out in the cold.

Fresh from the Film Noir Foundation’s recent Noir City Hollywood is the Foundation’s restoration of the 1956 Argentine noir “Los tallos amargos” (“The Bitter Stems,” 1956, Fernando Ayala). There’s also a screening of 1955’s “Love Me or Leave Me,” a rare gem, directed by Charles Vidor and starring Doris Day as real-life torch singer Ruth Etting, married to a gangster, played by James Cagney.

Director John Berry’s son Dennis Berry is scheduled to attend Friday’s screening of the 1951 film noir “He Ran All the Way,” starring John Garfield as a thief on the run holding Shelley Winters hostage. Dalton Trumbo wrote the script. Another essential noir is “Private Property” (1960, Leslie Stevens), a twisted lust triangle, starring Warren Oates.

On Friday afternoon, photographer and writer Mark Vieira will sign copies of his new book, “Into the Dark: The Hidden World of Film Noir, 1941-1950.”

Friday’s film-noir fare finishes with “Repeat Performance” (1947, Alfred Werker), newly restored by the Film Noir Foundation.

Dean Men Don't Wear Plaid posterNoir master Billy Wilder’s “Ace in the Hole” (1951) starring Kirk Douglas and 1982’s noir spoof “Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid” starring Steve Martin, screen on Saturday. Carl Reiner, who wrote and directed “Dead Men,” will be interviewed after the movie.

Representing the neo-noir contingent is “The Conversation” (1974, Francis Ford Coppola, who will get his star on Hollywood Boulevard during the fest), Milos Forman’s Oscar-winning “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” (1975), with Jack Nicholson in one of his finest hours, and “The Long Goodbye” (1973, Robert Altman) in which Elliott Gould brings Raymond Chandler’s Philip Marlowe to life in the ‘70s, as a scruffy loner. Gould will be interviewed at the fest. Jean-Luc Godard’s “Band of Outsiders” (1964), a French New Wave reinterpretation of classic Hollywood crime movies, must not be missed.

John Huston’s “Fat City,” from 1972, screens Sunday. This great, gritty boxing drama stars Stacy Keach and Jeff Bridges.

But perhaps the hottest film-noir ticket is “The Manchurian Candidate” (1962, John Frankenheimer), showing Friday night. Special guests are Angela Lansbury (can’t wait!) and Alec Baldwin.

These are just a few highlights of a festival that is packed with events, discussions and fun things to do. Thanks, TCM, for another great year.

Additionally, TCM is excited to announce the launch of Backlot, the network’s first fan club. Backlot will offer exclusive content, never-before-seen talent interviews, archival videos from the TCM vault, an exclusive TCM podcast, as well as opportunities to win visits to the TCM set, attend meet and greets with TCM hosts and the opportunity to influence programming through online votes. TCM Backlot can be accessed at tcmbacklot.com for an $87 annual fee.

And, coming this fall, TCM is teaming up with Criterion to launch FilmStruck, an art-house lover’s streaming service. Stay tuned for more details.

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Three COLCOA films view World War Two through the eyes of women and children

The unthinkable horrors and everyday nightmares on the home front during World War II are movingly depicted in three excellent new French films, which premiered at this year’s COLCOA French Film Festival: “The Innocents,” “Come What May” and “Fanny’s Journey.”

“The Innocents” is a shocking film set in 1945 Poland.

“The Innocents” is a shocking film set in 1945 Poland.

“The Innocents,” from director Anne Fontaine, received both the Audience Award and a Critics’ Special Mention. (Unlike 1961’s “The Innocents” – an adaptation of Henry James’ classic ghost story – by director Jack Clayton, starring Deborah Kerr, this film is based on fact.) Lou de Laâge stars as a French Red Cross doctor who comes to the aid of a Polish convent in 1945, after learning that several nuns have been raped by Russian soldiers. Fontaine’s graceful sweeping storytelling balances the shocking subject matter. She elicits memorable performances from the cast as she shows the nuns questioning their faith in varying degrees. Luminous cinematography and a somber score enhance the chilling mood.

“Come What May” won the festival’s Critics’ Award.

“Come What May” won the festival’s Critics’ Award.

In 1940, about 8 million French people left their homes as the invading German Panzers made their way through the Ardennes forest. “Come What May” tells the intimate story of a handful of villagers (August Diehl, Olivier Gourmet, Mathilde Seigner, Alice Isaaz and Matthew Rhys) as they abandon their town to head for the coast, where they hope to be safe from the invasion. Director and co-writer Christian Carion based the film on his mother’s real-life recollections of fleeing the Nazis at age 14. Beautifully made and acted, the film also boasts a score from Oscar winner Ennio Morricone. “Come What May” won the festival’s Critics’ Award.

In “Fanny’s Journey,” Léonie Souchaud plays Fanny Ben Ami.

In “Fanny’s Journey,” Léonie Souchaud (center) plays Fanny Ben Ami.

In “Fanny’s Journey,” Léonie Souchaud plays Fanny Ben Ami, who in 1939, when she was 13, fended for herself and her younger sisters, after their father was arrested in Paris. The girls stay briefly in a refectory for Jewish children but when that is no longer safe, Fanny faces a fearsome duty: leading a group of children left on their own through Nazi-occupied Europe to the Swiss border.

Director and co-writer Lola Doillon (daughter of filmmaker Jacques Doillon) has made an exquisite-looking period film – both a tense thriller and tender coming-of-age story. She has carried on the family tradition of delivering effortlessly fresh and spontaneous performances from child actors. “Fanny’s Journey” is based on Ben Ami’s autobiography.

FNB writer Mike Wilmington called the film “an instant classic.”

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COLCOA announces festival winners

The Franco-American Cultural Fund today announced the winners of the COLCOA French Film Festival.

Anne Fontaine photo by uniFrance.

Anne Fontaine photo by uniFrance.

The Innocents,” directed by Anne Fontaine won the COLCOA Audience Award. The film will be released in the U.S. by Music Box Films.

Come What May” was awarded the Critics Award by the Los Angeles Film Critics Association jury.  The film was written and directed by Christian Carion. It will be released shortly in the U.S. by Cohen Media Group. “COLCOA proves it is the indispensable film festival for Los Angeles movie lovers,” said the jury in a statement. “It’s deeply satisfying to sink into a week of films of such originality, authenticity and substance.”

Made in France,” co-written and directed by Nicolas Boukhrief, won the Audience Special Prize while the Critics Special Prize went to The First, the Last, written and directed by Bouli Lanners.

Audience Special Mentions were given to “Un Plus Une,” co-written and directed by Claude Lelouch and to “I am a Soldier,” co-written and directed by Laurent Lariviere.

Critics Special Mentions went to “Fatima,” written and directed by Philippe Faucon and “The Innocents.”

The Best Documentary Award went to “Tomorrow,” co-written and co-directed by Cyril Dion and Mélanie Laurent.

The First Feature Award went to “Neither Heaven nor Earth,” co-written and directed by Clément Cogitore. The film will be released in the U.S. by Film Movement.

The Coming Soon Award, a prize given in association with KPCC 89.3, to a film with a U.S. distributor, went to animated feature “Long Way North.” The film will be released in the U.S. by Shout! Factory.

For the winners of Television and Shorts categories, please visit the COLCOA web site.

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‘Courted’ touts top acting, but its stories disappoint

In “Courted,” writer/director Christian Vincent transports us to the professional and private world of Michel Racine, a fussbudget French judge in the criminal courts. Racine is a memorable characterization, beautifully played by Fabrice Luchini, who received last year’s Best Actor prize at the Venice International Film Festival for this performance.

“Courted” (“L’Hermine” in French) had its West Coast premiere at the COLCOA French Film Festival in Los Angeles Wednesday night, the same night as its North American premiere at the Tribecca Film Festival in New York.

Courted posterThe movie, which almost instantly recalls Sidney Lumet’s courtroom classic, “Twelve Angry Men,” shows Racine presiding over a brutal murder case, in which a 7-month-old child has died. The child’s surly father (Victor Pontecorvo) is the defendant. As the mechanics of the trial unfold, we meet the lawyers, the jury and a key witness, the child’s mother (Candy Ming). The jurors are a chatty bunch and one of them tells the group she has heard through the grapevine that Racine is known around the courthouse for his arrogance.

But he’s also a human being with very human problems. Indeed, it’s a bit jarring to see Racine, at the end of the day, sans his regal ermine robe, ordering soup in the tacky hotel where he lives, a result of his pending divorce.

By coincidence, another juror (Sidse Babett Knudsen), an empathetic Danish-born doctor, has crossed paths with Racine in the past, and this connection plays out as a budding romance.

A novel premise, “Courted” has much to offer – it’s well written and well acted all around. Luchini removes Racine’s pompous, curmudgeonly veneer to reveal his wistful vulnerability. Knudsen shines as the woman who attracts him, a lonely divorced mom who has devoted herself to her kids and career.

Crisply shot and nicely paced, the film’s tonal changes between drama and romcom are gracefully handled. But, at the same time, this mix of genres creates some problems. While it’s fascinating to see the French judicial system at work, shown with some of the same engrossing detail as Lumet’s great films and Dick Wolf’s “Law & Order,” the trial scenes lack the crackling tension that would have completely hooked us voyeurs.

Similarly, there’s a shortage of subtle chemistry between Luchini and Knudsen – both are sympathetic but there is an awkward flatness between them that never lifts. Even if this is intentional, it’s hard to care much about this fledgling couple. There’s a pivotal moment in the trial that would seem to clinch their relationship and oddly that moment is glossed over, a small but significant flaw.

Also strangely lost in the shuffle is any authentic reaction or concern about an unusually dire and depressing murder case. The characters’ jaded detachment is puzzling.

The fact that veteran writer/director Christian Vincent’s point of view remains rigidly superficial limits the film – the merged storylines should pulse with riveting intensity on two fronts, but instead “Courted” retreats disappointingly into bland disengagement.

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Enchanté, Monsieur Sy … COLCOA opens with a deftly performed drama, ‘Monsieur Chocolat’

Omar Sy

Omar Sy

France’s hottest export right now just might be actor/writer/producer Omar Sy. His new film “Monsieur Chocolat,” was the opening selection at the City of Lights City of Angels (COLCOA) French Film Festival Monday night in Hollywood.

The 38-year-old, easy-on-the-eyes French actor attended the fest reception and stayed after the film for a Q&A with director Roschdy Zem.

Monsieur Chocolat” is based on a true story of two circus clowns – one black and one white – who change the dynamics of comic performance in turn-of-the-century France, clearly no small task, given society’s hard-wired and rampant racism, not to mention the hardscrabble and precarious life of on-the-road entertainers. James Thierrée co-stars.

Sy’s most famous film is 2011’s “The Intouchables,” where he played a streetwise caregiver to a wealthy quadriplegic (François Cluzet). Enormously popular in France, the movie became the best selling French film of all time, but was less well received in the U.S.

A gifted comic actor, Sy’s engaging performance is the highlight of this flick. Thierrée, too, is at the top of his game. In fact, these are two of the best actors in contemporary French cinema.

Enchanté, Monsieur Sy! Let’s hope he stays all nine days of this truly charming and delightful festival.

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‘The Adderall Diaries’ story-within-a-story is an entry to skip

Father-son dynamics come to the fore of “The Adderall Diaries” along with true crime, drug abuse, S&M, and the blurred boundaries between art, real life and editorial license. Director Pamela Romanowsky’s ambitious drama is based on Stephen Elliott’s memoir of the same name. Romanowsky and Elliott co-wrote the sprawling script.

Adderall Diaries posterIn the film, Elliott (James Franco) is the author of a semi-autobiographical novel that chronicles the abuse he suffered as a child at the hands of his father, now deceased. Hailed as a major literary talent, Elliott has a generous advance for his next book and the encouragement of his agent (Cynthia Nixon). But, behind the scenes, Elliott struggles – he can’t focus and is using the drug adderall in an attempt to relieve his writer’s block.

He decides he wants to write about a real-life murder trial, in which a computer programmer named Hans Reiser (Christian Slater) is accused of murdering his wife. Reiser was found guilty and sentenced in 2008. (The actual murder and trial took place in California, but is reset in New York.) During the trial, Elliott meets a New York Times reporter (Amber Heard) and the two start a relationship; she also has been abused. An extra wrench in the works comes when Elliott’s father (Ed Harris), rough around the edges but in fact alive and sort of well, confronts Elliott about the accusations in his book.

There’s a smorgasbord of titillating storylines here and for the first half of the film, Romanowsky’s direction feels capable and confident, eliciting solid performances from her cast and creating a tense mood, edged with darkness (despite the frequent flashbacks, which were overdone and heavy-handed). But then she seems to lose her way, letting narrative threads unravel and dangle clumsily. The story doesn’t end as much as sputter to a halt – as if the project just became overwhelming.

Perhaps it was increasingly difficult to deal with two major intertwined deficits. First, many details of the story (altered from the book) don’t feel authentic. Nixon’s character is referred to as an editor, instead of an agent. I never got a sense that Heard’s NYT reporter was actually filing stories. Her primary objective seems to be pleasing Elliott in bed, until his kinky requests get too weird for her.

Second, Heard and to a certain extent Franco are miscast in this piece. I didn’t buy Heard as an adrenaline-fueled, deadline-driven, fact-checking writer and Franco’s existential suffering was undercut by a cute, cuddly vibe that he can’t quite shake.

Elliott’s father and his alternate version of their past should have been meaty and moving but instead felt trite and by the numbers, even though Harris is a fine actor. And Elliott doesn’t offer any particular insight into the Reiser case (that might have been covered more thoroughly in the memoir, which I haven’t read.) By the time the film ended, or rather expired, it left me deflated, frustrated, a little confused and, worst of all, bored.

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Noir City Hollywood kicks off with an Argentine noir

Noir City Hollywood starts Friday at the Egyptian Theatre in Hollywood. The famed fest is presented by the American Cinematheque in collaboration with the Film Noir Foundation.

The provocative series opens with the Foundation’s restoration of the 1956 Argentine noir “Los tallos amargos” (“The Bitter Stems,” 1956, Fernando Ayala), followed by 1947’sRiff-Raff” (Ted Tatzlaff). A reception will take place between the films.

The fest runs through April 24. Eddie Muller and Alan K. Rode of the Film Noir Foundation will introduce the movies.

Paul Henreid and Bette Davis try to recapture their love in “Deception.”

Paul Henreid and Bette Davis try to recapture their love in “Deception.”

For the double feature of “Deception” (1946, Irving Rapper), starring Bette Davis, Paul Henreid and Claude Rains, and “Hollow Triumph” (1948, Steve Sekely) on Saturday, April 23, Paul Henreid’s daughter, Monika Henreid, will join Muller for a discussion of her dad’s work in both films.

On the closing day, Sunday, April 24, the Film Noir Foundation and its media publishing partner Flicker Alley will host a reception celebrating the Blu-ray/DVD releases of two FNF 35mm restorations: “Too Late for Tears” (1949, Byron Haskin) and “Woman on the Run” (1950, Norman Foster). Stay for an encore screening (in 35mm) of “Too Late for Tears.”

Deep Valley posterOther highlights include:

Edward G. Robinson and Burt Lancaster star in “All My Sons” (1948, Irving Reis), based on Arthur Miller’s play.

William Powell flexes his film noir muscle in “Take One False Step” (1949, Chester Erskine).

The work of French poetic realist/film noir specialist Julien Duvivier gets a double feature—“Flesh and Fantasy” (1943) and “Destiny” (1944). Also notable: the Jazz Noir double feature, and the Anthony Mann double feature: “Side Street” (1949) and “Dr. Broadway” (1942).

Tony Curtis doubtless does some fine-ass lip snarling in 1952’s “Flesh and Fury.”

Ida Lupino in “Deep Valley” (1947, Jean Negulesco) and the usual suspects—Virginia Mayo, Zachary Scott, Elisha Cook Jr. and Dorothy Malone—in “Flaxy Martin” (1949, Richard L. Bare). Note to self: Check if @FlaxyMartin is taken.

Dead Reckoning” (1947, John Cromwell), a good little yarn starring Humphrey Bogart and Lizabeth Scott. Read more here: Dead Reckoning review.

So get your pencil skirts pressed and your fedoras flashing as you gear up for some twisty, chewy badness, guaranteed to trigger your existential angst and your black-and-white nostalgia but not before giving you some wry laughs, sexy camerawork, sizzling chemistry and boundless charisma.

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