Prisoners/2013/Warner Bros./153 min.
Tense and absorbing, “Prisoners” ranks as a solid three-star flick. When two 6-year-old girls go missing, one of the fathers – a carpenter and hunter named Keller Dover (Hugh Jackman) – quickly reveals himself to be a brutal vigilante, intent on beating information out of a mentally disabled man brought in for questioning and then released (Paul Dano).
Jake Gyllenhaal, as the obsessive cop assigned to the case, pursues another suspect and eventually Jackman chases yet another – all of the suspects, we learn, share a shattering connection. Terrence Howard, Viola Davis, Maria Bello and Melissa Leo round out the cast. Aaron Guzikowski wrote the screenplay.
Québec-born director Denis Villeneuve thoughtfully tells a complex, Hitchcockian tale and elicits memorable performances from the cast, especially from Gyllenhaal (perhaps his best work since “Zodiac.”)
On the downside, there are some rather drafty plot holes, the pacing is slightly off and, while Jackman is very watchable, the script’s characterization of Keller Dover proves more facile than fascinating. Still, it’s engrossing enough that you might feel like watching it twice to catch all the clues. And the ending is superb.
On the big screen: Style doc ‘Mademoiselle C’ and three neo-noir titles: ‘A Single Shot,’ ‘Prisoners, ‘The Family’
In defense of full-on glamour, Joan Crawford once said, “If you want to see the girl next door, go next door.”
Fashion insider Carine Roitfeld, the subject of a new documentary called “Mademoiselle C,” echoes that view and takes it up a notch. Running French Vogue for 10 years, Roitfeld became known for her edgy “porno-chic” aesthetic.
After her Vogue gig ended, Roitfeld decided to launch her own mag in New York, CR Fashion Book, and the film chronicles this experience. Interestingly, unlike Crawford, Roitfeld has a tranquil home life, complete with adoring husband and two gorgeous, grown-up children.
Fashionistas will likely enjoy watching Roitfeld at work and seeing her rub elbows with celebs such as Tom Ford, Karl Lagerfeld and Diane Von Furstenberg. And Roitfeld exemplifies Parisian chic style, stateside. Director Fabien Constant’s touch is light and lively, though overall it feels quite superficial – a bit like browsing through Vogue, glancing at all the glossy pictures and skipping the stories.
“Mademoiselle C” opened Sept. 11 in New York and opens Sept. 20 in LA at Laemmle Music Hall in Beverly Hills.
John (Sam Rockwell) is backwoods/country guy trying to make ends meet and looking to patch things up with his estranged wife and son. It’s when he resorts to poaching that his troubles begin and he’s quickly caught in a noirish trap – there’s a big pile of cash, sleazy lowlifes aplenty and a dead body, natch.
Director David M. Rosenthal’s haunting visuals help create a moody atmosphere but the film is undercut by its draggy pace and characters who feel less than authentic, particularly John and his blasé reaction to his own pivotal act of violence. Matthew F. Jones wrote the novel and screenplay. William H. Macy, master of the unctuous interloper, wears a scary toupee and preposterous plaid to great effect. Opens Sept. 20 in New York and in LA at Laemmle’s NoHo 7 in North Hollywood.
“Prisoners” looks set to be one of the fall’s best offerings, especially with such a stellar cast: Hugh Jackman, Jake Gyllenhaal, Viola Davis, Melissa Leo, Maria Bello and Paul Dano. Québec-born Denis Villeneuve directs. Am seeing it this weekend and will come back soon to update. Opens Sept. 20.
The Family/111 min.
In case it’s not clear from the cloying ads and previews, “The Family,” should do everyone a favor and stay at home. Despite a strong cast (Robert De Niro, Michelle Pfeiffer, Tommy Lee Jones) who manage to eke out good performances, the film is weighed down by a weak script and a story that is both illogical and predictable.
This is a crime comedy? Really? Sadly, it’s just not funny. Snazzy camerawork eventually became distracting as did the trying-too-hard-to-be-cool score. I expected more from director Luc Besson. Opened Sept. 13.
Here’s what we at FNB are especially looking forward to. Must pop copious quantities of corn. Yum!
“The Man Who Knew Too Much” (1956)
“To Catch a Thief”
You can see the full schedule here.
Partly Fiction/2013/Adopt Films/77 min.
Perhaps that’s because the actor and veteran of neo noir has a look — like Keith Richards of the Rolling Stones — that ages for sure but never really gets old, no matter how many decades pass. Classically handsome, not so much but Stanton’s rugged, weathered face is singularly expressive. Or as Sam Shepard puts it in a wonderful new documentary on Stanton: “His face is the story.”
Directed by Sophie Huber, “Partly Fiction,” is an of-the-moment glimpse into an iconic actor’s oeuvre and a mysterious man’s heart. Through interview footage, clips from some of his 250 films and his own renditions of American folk songs, we see a loner, an artist and a Hollywood survivor. Stanton is someone who has been steadily successful on his own terms in a cut-throat industry famous for using, abusing and discarding talent. Maybe his secret is he doesn’t seem to take Tinseltown or himself too seriously.
At least that was my impression as Stanton discussed his early days, working with his friends, acting greats Marlon Brando and Jack Nicholson. We see him at home and at a longtime hangout, Dan Tana’s in West Hollywood as he talks a bit about his roots in West Irvine, Ky., the craft of acting and a relationship that left him “broken-hearted.”
Offering their takes are on what makes Stanton tick along with Shepard are David Lynch, Wim Wenders, Kris Kristofferson and Debbie Harry. Seamus McGarvey provides luminous camerawork (black and white at Stanton’s home, color when he ventures out).
“Partly Fiction”’s story is rich, resonant and real.
“Partly Fiction” opened Wednesday in New York. It opens today in LA with select cities to follow. Director Sophie Huber and Harry Dean Stanton will be doing a Q&A tonight (Friday, Sept. 13) following the 7:30 p.m. show at Landmark’s The Nuart in West LA.
I have a soft spot for French family dramas – they are usually very well made, the stories often conceal a sharp edge within an elegant setting and, more often than not, the acting is excellent. So it’s pretty easy to overlook flaws – even glaring ones.
That’s the case with “You Will Be My Son,” a contemporary father-son saga, set in a Saint Emilion vineyard. The blustery, boisterous father, Paul, (Niels Arestrup) has dedicated his life to making wine and wants to groom his successor. One candidate is his weak-willed son Martin (Lorànt Deutsch), who wants the job but lacks true passion and talent.
On the other hand, family friend Philippe (Nicolas Bridet) is just the ticket. Philippe’s his ailing father François (Patrick Chesnais) is Paul’s right-hand man and charming Philippe also has the glitzy credential of being a star at the Coppola vineyard in California.
Directed and co-written by Gilles Legrand, “You Will Be My Son” is an engrossing melodrama (that sometimes veers into silliness) with elements of a good old-fashioned thriller – male rivalry, bromance, suspense, high stakes, deadly consequences.
Now the flaws: While the script probes the characters fairly deeply, the father-son relationship is extremely heavy-handed. It seems that when Baby Martin came bouncing into the world, it was hate at first sight for the not-so-proud papa. Everything the son does (even jogging) irritates Dad. Both actors are well cast and Arestrup gives a particularly great performance but the script could have used more subtlety in shading this fraught bond between the principal characters. Couldn’t we see at least one scene where they connect on some level?
Also, the final twist hits a false note, stemming more from expediency than from inevitability.
Still, this engaging flick is easy on the eyes with good dialogue and strong acting.
“You Will Be My Son” opens today in Los Angeles.
Sundays with Hitch this month on TCM is a gold mine of film-noir viewing opps. The master of suspense is celebrated with TCM’s most comprehensive Alfred Hitchcock festival yet, from premieres of several British silent films to Hollywood classics that defined the thriller genre.
Which ones will make your must-see list?
Neo-noir master Brian De Palma’s latest film, “Passion,” starring Rachel McAdams and Noomi Rapace, was released today. It’s a reworking of a French film called “Love Crime,” which I reviewed last summer and thought was rather good. (“Love Crime” was directed by Alain Corneau and starred Kristin Scott Thomas and Ludivine Sagnier).
I haven’t seen “Passion” and am wondering if it behooves me to see it, having not been contacted re: screenings arranged by the film’s publicity team. It’s bloody hot out, it’s a holiday weekend and I do have to live up to my nickname, Lazy Legs.
The NYT’s A. O. Scott said the film was “often sleek and enjoyable, dispensing titillation, suspense and a few laughs without taking itself too seriously.”
Justin Chang of Variety puts it this way: “By the time it reaches its overwrought final act, the picture has generated neither the tension of its forebears nor the audacity that would allow it to transcend its silliness.”
And the New York Daily News’ Joe Neumaier pretty much hated it. “With no heat at all and a woefully disjointed cast, De Palma’s danse macabre never catches fire,” Neumaier writes.
Anyone out there seen it? Let me know what you think. I’m going to ponder, while sipping a cool & refreshing cocktail, whether I can get fired up over “Passion.”
By Mike Wilmington
The late 1960s and early 1970s, in America, were marked by violence and loneliness, war and craziness, and wild beauty. We see a portrait of a lot of that trauma, in microcosm, in Terrence Malick’s shattering 1973 classic, “Badlands.” Set in the American West of the 1950s, it’s the story of two young people on the run: Kit, who works on a trash truck and tries to model himself after James Dean, and Holly, a high-school baton twirler with a strange blank stare, who thinks Kit is the handsomest boy she’s ever seen.
These two moonchildren run off together after Kit tries and fails to reconcile Holly’s mean, smiley-sign-painter father (Warren Oates) to their relationship. Then, plumb out of arguments, Kit shoots him dead and burns his house down. It’s probably Kit’s first murder; he’s such a weirdly polite guy that it’s hard to envision it otherwise. But soon he develops a taste for slaughter. And he and Holly embark on a savage cross-country trek by stolen cars, one that includes the massacre of many people, including Kit’s best (only) friend Cato (Ramon Bieri).
Kit appears to be killing not out of need or fear, but out of some perverse pleasure he gets from pulling the trigger and making a soul disappear from a body. “He was the most trigger-happy person I’d ever seen,” says Holly, in her flat, unemotional voice.
Kit and Holly are played by Martin Sheen and Sissy Spacek, the first lead roles for either of them. They are a couple of beautiful but amoral (at least in Kit’s case) American eccentrics who seem to have gotten most of their ideas about love and romance from the movies. Kit keeps constructing his own dream world, even as the real world is falling apart below their feet. They build tree houses, they dance at night by the lights of their stolen car to Nat King Cole’s achingly romantic ballad “A Blossom Fell.”
Kit and Holly were inspired, to a degree, by real people: serial killer Charles Starkweather and his 14-year-old girlfriend Caril Ann Fugate. The pair went on a murder spree in 1957-58 and wound up killing 11 people, some of them with a cruelty that surpasses anything we see in Malick’s movie.
“Badlands” was also inspired by Arthur Penn’s 1967 masterpiece “Bonnie and Clyde,” another movie where unsavory real-life characters, the Clyde Barrow-Bonnie Parker gang, become likeable and sympathetic, even glamorous. Bonnie, Clyde, Kit and Holly are stunningly attractive, which is a cinematic short-cut to sympathy and something we see in other films like the 1950 film noir classic “Gun Crazy,” directed by Joseph H. Lewis. But Clyde is more of a businessman who’s chosen crime as a profession; Kit is a born killer and we’re probably more afraid of him than any of the jolly Barrow gang.
There’s something else that “Badlands” and “Bonnie and Clyde” share: a true, piercing sense of the rough-hewn beauty of the American landscapes and of the American physiognomy. And while Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway have A-list knockout looks (the kind of faces moviemakers use to draw us to the screen and what the movies themselves sell) Sheen and Spacek have a different kind of good looks: an outsider sexiness, a tender and beguiling charm.
Sheen and Spacek are alluring, and so is the film: a series of gorgeous landscapes, images that can fill us with delight and awe. (“Badlands” went through three camera artists: Tak Fujimoto, Brian Probyn and Stevan Larner.) In his next film, “Days of Heaven,” Malick would also get incredible beauty in exterior shots. But “Badlands”— shot on a minuscule budget in what Malick has called an outlaw production — has something madder, freer. It’s a darkening vision of two naïve kids in love and flight, but it’s also the head-shot of a killer, picking out his targets. He’s there, smiling, with a gun in his hand, almost before you know it.
The question “Badlands” poses, like “Bonnie and Clyde,” is the riddle of which is more deadly: society or its outlaws. We think we know the answer, but we don’t. Both movies, made in the Vietnam era, are about the struggle between the establishment and its outlaws. Both deliberately blur the boundaries between what we see as good and evil.
“Badlands” is about the America and the people we think we know but really don’t, the people we hear about from afar. It’s about that car racing along the road against the night-sky, those twisted childlike lovers, looking for freedom but finding darkness and death, and the soft, fleeting sound of Nat King Cole on the car radio.
Criterion’s DVD and Blu-ray releases of “Badlands” include a number of outstanding extras.
“Leave Her to Heaven” shows a glossy new strand of film noir: a domestic-based story shot in color. Of course, there were mixed-up families all along and melodrama was nothing new – Joan Crawford won the Best Actress Oscar for “Mildred Pierce,” also from 1945. But here we are immersed in the inner-workings of an upper- middle-class, superficially happy clan and witness the deadly consequences of Daddy complexes. (Yes, there is a family-size helping of obvious Freudian psychology.)
Gene Tierney tackles the role of Ellen Berent – ravishingly beautiful, rich as a princess, and smart as a tack. (Rita Hayworth reportedly turned the part down.) Shortly after the death of her father, she meets a handsome novelist named Richard Harland (Cornel Wilde) who looks and acts like Dad. Ellen’s quickly heads over heels and in short order she dumps her fiancé, aspiring politician Russell Quinton (Vincent Price), and marries Richard.
Breaking the noir convention that a femme fatale typically has a tough childhood and few remaining family ties, Ellen comes from a wealthy and well respected East Coast family. Ellen’s mom (Mary Philips) says: “There’s nothing wrong with Ellen. It’s just that she loves too much. She loved her fahhhther too much.”
We also learn that Richard has a younger brother Danny (Darryl Hickman) who’s an invalid and, in Ellen’s view, really a bit of a third wheel. For you see, the lovely Ellen is turning out to be a green-eyed monster fond of sticking to her husband like glue.
To top it off, Richard has the irritating notion that he’s The Writer of the House and needs some time to himself To Write. Seriously, Richard?
As Ellen’s paranoia and possessiveness grow, her cousin Ruth (Jeanne Crain) appears strikingly sane by contrast and hence more competition for Richard’s attention. Ellen may be clinical, but she’s not stupid, so once she decides that Richard no longer wants her, she sets an If-I-can’t-have-him … trap. She also commits one of the most cold-blooded killings in the film-noir canon.
A big-budget production with a strong cast, “Leave Her to Heaven” is immensely entertaining. (Price and Tierney had worked together in 1944’s “Laura” as well.) For one thing, it’s drop-dead gorgeous. Shot in luscious Technicolor by cinematographer Leon Shamroy (he won an Oscar for this film) with frothy art direction by Maurice Ransford and Lyle Wheeler, “Leave Her to Heaven” is a feast for the eyes.
Another highlight: John M. Stahl’s elegant direction. Known for women’s films such as “Back Street (1932), “Imitation of Life” (1934) and “Magnificent Obsession” (1935) as well as the MGM flop “Parnell” (1937), Stahl could make a stylish soap opera like nobody’s business. The executive producer was Darryl F. Zanuck (uncredited).
(Following in Stahl’s soap-opera tradition was the great Douglas Sirk, known for his lavish productions underpinned with stinging social criticism. He remade “Magnificent Obsession” in 1954 with Rock Hudson and “Imitation of Life” in 1959 with Lana Turner.)
The source for “Leave Her to Heaven” was Ben Ames Williams’ novel “Leave Her to Heaven” (a line from “Hamlet”). The book was a best seller that prompted a bidding war among studios wanting to make the movie. Jo Swerling wrote the screenplay.
In the DVD version, actor Hickman and film critic Richard Schickel provide commentary. Hickman tells us that Tierney didn’t give him the time of day and he couldn’t seem to please Stahl, then picks on Tierney’s acting. But then he did apparently get pneumonia from shooting the famous lake scene so that might sour one just a tad.
Schickel’s comments are far more interesting, especially his insightful observation about fashion. Despite her issues, Ellen is dressed to a T in every scene, looking icy cool, highly polished and timeless. And when you come down it, what’s more important than that? Neurotic, schmurotic.