Monday, April 14, 2014

Most Anticipated : Carol

Blanchett as Carol

When reading The Price of Salt, the Patricia Highsmith novel on which this film is based, I imagined Carol as Marlene Dietrich if she were a 50s New York housewife. That is to say Cate Blanchett is perfect casting.

Todd Haynes re-teams with his I'm Not There star Cate Blanchett and enlists Lisabeth Salander herself, Rooney Mara, to film Highsmith's cult lesbian romance. TV stars turned prestige supporting players Sarah Paulson and Kyle Chandler lend support. Behind the camera it's a full on Far From Heaven reunion with lenser Ed Lachman and costume designer Sandy Powell. 

What's It About
Set in New York in the early 1950s the movie will tell the story of Therese Belivet (Mara) a department store assistant and her infatuation and eventual romance with the mysterious and beautiful Carol Aird (Blanchett). We can also think of it as a love quartet since the story involves Carol's husband (Chandler) who she's trying to divorce while keeping custody of their daughter, and her best friend and ex (Paulson). 

Why I'm Excited
Any movie with Blanchett is a most anticipated event around these parts. That she is working with Haynes again for which she gave one of her most astonishing performances is reason to cheer. That Haynes is working again in the 1950s milieu that he explored so well before in Far From Heaven raises the anticipation to fever pitch. That it is an adaptation of Highsmith's beautiful and moving novel, which defied conventions and stereotypes about LGBT stories and characters early on, raises our expectations to pure joy and giddiness.

Nothing. This might be my most anticipated movie EVER!

Review - Under the Skin

I think I might have a new favorite film. I am astonished by how much I liked Jonathan Glazer's Under the Skin. It seeped into me and a week after seeing it I'm still lost in a haze of its brilliant images and inventive storytelling. Glazer proves yet again how singular his vision is.

The film is told from the point of view of an alien (played by Scarlet Johansson in their human form) who comes to Earth on a vague mission. She lands in Glasgow and proceeds to pick up men and lure them to her dungeon-like place where they vanish in a big black liquid like pit. Why she needs them is never explained. She might have a handler or a supervisor who sometimes follows her; we are not sure. And the movie doesn't care to explain. It's more interested in the alien learning about being human and discovering emotions that didn't exist before. Strictly sticking to her POV the movie never wavers or tries to explain its plot. No exposition just methodically exploring this particular entity's story. This might be infuriating if you were looking for a cohesive plot.

The images are eerily stark, not exactly conventionally beautiful. The camera explores Earth from this very alien view. Even the streets and people look slightly off, as if I was seeing such shapes for the very first time. One of the reasons why the movie is so brilliant. I don't think I have seen anything like this before. It's a movie that I suspect will reward on multiple viewings and I can't wait to see it again.

Friday, April 11, 2014

First Impression - Suite Francaise

Williams and Schoenaerts in a tender moment

I feel sheepish writing about Suite Francaise since I saw it at a test screening. I don't know the etiquette involved in such a situation but I didn't sign anything that said I shouldn't. However I will speculate on its awards potential as opposed to writing a review as the film could possibly change before being released. The movie tells the story of French village during German occupation in 1940 and in particular Lucille (Michelle Williams), a French woman whose husband is away fighting in the war and her relationships with her disapproving mother-in-law (Kristin Scott Thomas) and  with the German officer (Matthias Schoenaerts) who gets to live at their home by law.

While this movie isn't in my 2014 most anticipated, I'm still interested because of Michelle Williams. She has knocked me over with her transcendent performance in Blue Valentine and became one of my favorites. She has three nominations already which means she might be considered due a win and this had the potential to be a big fat juicy role that could get her there. I'm sad to report I do not see it as an Oscar wining performance. She is of course great : emotional and open and without question the movie is her story. She gets to be repressed and timid, then open as she falls in love. She gets to be courageous and willful and gets lots of loving close ups showing all these feelings she's feeling. But she's also saddled with an irksome narration, and the tone of the movie is all over the place. Is it a big weepy romance a la The English Patient? Is it a wartime at home story a la Hope and Glory? Is it a story about the French Resistance a la The Last Metro? It tries to be all and never settles on a winning tone.

The tone is important in that it doesn't give the performance the space to build and really hit the emotional spot. And for that I think she might be nominated because 1) she's good and 2) she has a strong history with awards. But I don't see this movie and performance riding a wave of critical accolades and cinephile love to an Oscar win.

Schoenaerts amid the German tanks

Matthias Schoenaerts in my mind was the standout performance. But it is a very recessive subtle one that is unlikely to get noticed. Kristin Scott Thomas is her usual funny brittleness and could get carried in Williams' coattails if the movie resonates. Costumes and cinematography are possibilities. But ultimately this is a very good production that is not inventive or particularly original to stand out.