Alexandre Desplat

Rust and Bone (2012, Jacques Audiard)

Until about eighty minutes into Rust and Bone, the film resists predictability. Director Audiard has a couple moments of Marion Cotillard bouncing back after a tragedy to pop music, but they’re punctuated with fantastic postscripts. The postscripts make up for any melodramatic shorthand.

Well, until the eighty minute mark. And then Rust and Bone becomes cloying. The film’s style doesn’t change–it’s still harsh and bright (with fantastic photography from Stéphane Fontaine)–but the storytelling changes. It stops being a character study of Cotillard, who has dominated the film, and slowly transitions back to Matthias Schoenaerts.

Schoenaerts is an amiable, if numb-skulled, single dad who just can’t seem to do right. From the eighty minute mark until the film’s conclusion, instead of being a character study, Rust becomes a redemption melodrama. A well-directed, well-acted redemption melodrama, but still a redemption melodrama. The final couple predictable moments are shockingly forecasted. Audiard and co-screenwriter Thomas Bidegain inexplicably bring in narration at the end; had they used it throughout and in future tense, the film could not be more predictable.

The worst part about the transition from Cotillard to Schoenaerts is there’s no attempt to share. Audiard and Bidegain had worked out a great balance between the two–Cotillard’s even top-billed–and then they flush it to manipulate the viewer.

Truly great editing from Juliette Welfling. Not in the montages, but in the scenes.

Cotillard and Schoenaerts’s beautiful acting make the film worthwhile. It’s just a narrative mess.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Directed by Jacques Audiard; screenplay by Audiard and Thomas Bidegain, based on a story by Craig Davidson; director of photography, Stéphane Fontaine; edited by Juliette Welfling; music by Alexandre Desplat; production designer, Michel Barthélémy; produced by Audiard, Martine Cassinelli and Pascal Caucheteux; released by Lumière.

Starring Marion Cotillard (Stéphanie), Matthias Schoenaerts (Alain van Versch), Armand Verdure (Sam), Céline Sallette (Louise), Corinne Masiero (Anna), Jean-Michel Correia (Richard) and Bouli Lanners (Martial).


Godzilla (2014, Gareth Edwards)

Instead of focusing on the giant monsters fighting, Gareth Edwards tells his Godzilla from the human perspective. It's too bad because Edwards occasionally will set up an action shot well–he's inept at following through with these setups and actually doing a good action scene, but he's always terrible with the actors. The most interesting question Godzilla raises is in regards to its character actors… why can David Strathairn keep it together with Bryan Cranston looks increasingly more humiliated to be delivering Max Borenstein's terrible lines?

There's nothing good about Godzilla. There's not some gem of a little performance, there's not some fantastic sequence to partially redeem the film. Borenstein rips off a plot point from the last American remake (with some garnish) but it's all right because most of the first half has Edwards ripping off everything he can from Steven Spielberg. Poorly, of course, because Edwards, Borenstein and Godzilla are all terrible.

Particularly bad also is Alexandre Desplat's score. There's not a single good note of music, but given the film's atrocious sound design–which is usually meant to heighten the emotional impact of leads Aaron Taylor-Johnson and Elizabeth Olsen's lousy acting–one would be unable to hear it.

Real quick–Taylor-Johnson's awful, Olsen's awful, Cranston's embarrassed–Sally Hawkins looks like she's ready to cry being in this turkey. Ken Watanabe gives the second best performance (after Strathairn); Borenstein gives him the most idiotic dialogue.

Godzilla's truly American now. The film would fail a fourth grade science quiz. It's exceptionally stupid. And bad.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Gareth Edwards; screenplay by Max Borenstein, based a story by Dave Callaham; director of photography, Seamus McGarvey; edited by Bob Ducsay; music by Alexandre Desplat; production designer, Owen Paterson; produced by Thomas Tull, Jon Jashni, Mary Parent and Brian Rogers; released by Warner Bros

Starring Aaron Taylor-Johnson (Ford Brody), Ken Watanabe (Dr. Serizawa), Elizabeth Olsen (Elle Brody), Juliette Binoche (Sandra Brody), Sally Hawkins (Graham), David Strathairn (Admiral Stenz), Richard T. Jones (Captain Hampton) and Bryan Cranston (Joe Brody).


Intimate Enemies (2007, Florent Emilio Siri)

Intimate Enemies, quite unfortunately, follows the American Vietnam war movie formula. There’s the world-weary sergeant (Albert Dupontel), the green and idealistic new lieutenant (Benoît Magimel)–will the lieutenant eventually become just the thing he hates in all the other men? Of course. It isn’t even interesting when he gets there, since Enemies doesn’t just make the lieutenant the idealist, it also makes him the protagonist. After his big change, which is somewhat inexplicable–narratively speaking–the film loses its protagonist. Even as the camera and story follow Magimel, the viewer is distant from him, never to return. During a rather affecting third act, the distance still remains from the character, though he is, like the rest of the men (it’s a Christmas scene and a good one), devastating.

While the script occasionally falls into melodramatic war movie mores, there are some rather interesting singularities. Dupontel and Magimel never have their great scene together where Dupontel, full of hard-earned wisdom, somehow eases Magimel’s turmoil. Intimate Enemies opens rather awkwardly–not what I was expecting from a director like Siri, who lets the import of the film weigh him down (when Siri does let loose, all three times for melodramatic emphasis, it’s disastrous). That awkward open resolves itself quickly with the death of Dupontel’s lieutenant, who he despises for being inept (never heard of a sergeant thinking the lieutenant was inept in a war movie, have you?). So from the first ten minutes, Enemies sets itself up for that predictable scene where Dupontel recognizes Magimel for not being an inept lieutenant.

Of all the anticipated clichés the film could undergo, it would have been the best, given the terrible ones it ends up receiving. Some of them are so bad, I’m tempted to spoil them just to see if I can get the foreshadowing across in the beginning of a sentence.

What Siri lacks is a tone. With its American war movie structure (Platoon was a big influence–gag) to its desert setting (like The Beast), Intimate Enemies never feels like its own piece of work. During the infrequent scenes around the base, when the story allows the viewer to see what life is like for the men in the Algerian desert, or when Magimel goes back to 1959 France… it comes close. But the script rips the film away from these successful arenas and returns it to the norms.

Magimel is great. Dupontel’s really good. Lounès Tazairt is excellent as an Algerian fighting with the French. The script cheats most of them of their best possible scenes–Tazairt being a possible exception. And the rest of the supporting cast is generally good. The acting isn’t the problem.

Not once during the film does it feel like Siri isn’t cooking straight from the cookbook. Here he’s using a recipe of the back of a Kraft bag of cheese–the kind where you’re only supposed to use other Kraft products–and he never says to hell with it. He follows the recipe to the letter. It’s a decent recipe–it’s not like Platoon or something–but it’s a packaged dinner masquerading as a home cooked meal.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Directed by Florent Emilio Siri; screenplay by Patrick Rotman, based on an adaptation by Siri and Rotman; director of photography, Giovanni Fiore Coltellacci; edited by Christophe Danilo and Olivier Gajan; music by Alexandre Despla; production designer, William Abello; produced by François Kraus and Denis Pineau-Valencienne; released by SND.

Starring Benoît Magimel (Lieutenant Terrien), Albert Dupontel (Sergent Dougnac), Aurélien Recoing (Commandant Vesoul), Marc Barbé (Capitaine Berthaut), Eric Savin (Le sergent tortionnaire), Mohamed Fellag (Idir Danoun), Lounès Tazairt (Saïd), Abdelhafid Metalsi (Rachid), Vincent Rottiers (Lefranc), Lounès Machene (Amar) and Adrien Saint-Joré (Lacroix).


The Queen (2006, Stephen Frears)

Glibly, I can say the most amazing thing The Queen does is humanize Tony Blair, seeing as he’s been decency’s biggest quisling in recent memory. But seeing a sympathetic portrayal of politician–one still in power when a film is released–is uncommon. Michael Sheen really creates a Tony Blair, certainly a Tony Blair one wishes the real person measured up to. And royalty is often sympathetically portrayed, just not modern royalty, which is where The Queen becomes rare. I had assumed the screenwriter adapted a book, something with some non-reporter-like confirmation (apparently, the screenwriter got independent confirmations of specific facts)… because The Queen then becomes a fictionalization of a real person, but a fiction striving for truth… is a truly exceptional attempt for a work.

I watched this film with tears in my eyes for much of it, because it made me privy to something private. An autobiography isn’t private, it’s published. I don’t like considering the impetus behind a film’s creation–it’s money, almost always, unless the film’s really cheap (and then it’s usually the desire for future money)–but this film mustn’t have easy to make in that regard and–I’m losing my train of thought. My film review vocabulary isn’t geared for admiring people’s intentions. Anyway.

Superficially glibly… James Cromwell. Cromwell’s been a ham for a good ten years or so. The Queen really rescues him from it. The role lends itself to ham and he doesn’t do it. Alex Jennings is also excellent as Charles. Some of The Queen‘s easy effectiveness comes from the majority of the characters being privately conflicted, unable to release it. Sheen acts as a bit of a release valve, getting to vocalize frustration, which the other main characters cannot do.

As for Mirren–being disinterested in the history of the Windsors, my fiancée proved invaluable in explaining certain details to me (the film would work just fine without the knowledge, of course)–but I did find it odd, back when I heard about the film, the quintessential British female actor (from the American perspective anyway) playing the quintessential British female. I assumed it would be an easy fit, but Mirren–a little differently from Sheen’s Blair, since Blair isn’t a world figure in the same way–creates the Queen. Through her interactions with her staff, from assistant to groundskeeper, Mirren gradually establishes more than a visible humanity, but really makes the audience understand more her feelings than the response to her actions.

In terms of handling–storytelling handling–if The Queen were an absolutely fictional piece, it’d be good but not revolutionary. It’s a somewhat standard structure, two main threads, one secondary one, but, again, the subject matter and the handling of it–I love the scenes Frears cuts a little short, in the middle of dialogue, when the Queen ceases listening and then so too must the audience–makes the film a particular achievement. Oddly, the only other thing I can think of to even compare this film to is… Bubba Ho-Tep, but whereas that film brought deep feeling to the fictionalized life of a real person, The Queen brings it to the real life of a real person. It’s really something.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Stephen Frears; written by Peter Morgan; director of photography, Affonso Beato; edited by Lucia Zucchetti; music by Alexandre Desplat; production designer, Alan Macdonald; produced by Christine Langan, Tracey Seaward and Andy Harries; released by Miramax Films.

Starring Helen Mirren (The Queen), Michael Sheen (Tony Blair), James Cromwell (Prince Philip), Sylvia Syms (the Queen Mother), Alex Jennings (Prince Charles), Helen McCrory (Cherie Blair), Roger Allam (Sir Robin Janvrin) and Tim McMullan (Stephen Lamport).


The Nest (2002, Florent Emilio Siri)

It’s a French remake of Assault on Precinct 13, but with a healthy mix of disaster movie sentimentality (just as visible in, say, Die Hard, as in The Towering Inferno). That sentimentality isn’t bad, it’s a reward. You watch this incredibly manipulative film and then, in the end, you get some pretty music and some sense of human achievement. The Nest takes it further, however, finding moments of reprieve (not just for the viewer, but for the characters) during the story. I can’t remember how I found it, probably through some review of the actual Precinct 13 remake, but whatever I read about it, in terms of reviews, really fouled up my expectations, because the IMDb “critic” made it sound like it had a twist ending. It doesn’t.

The Nest has a really long set-up–over a half hour–and it’s very well-made, not just compositionally, but also in the character dynamics and the general feel of the film. It’s so well-made, I had that moment where I was sorry it wasn’t two hours, instead of being fifteen minutes shy or whatever. But then I realized it couldn’t sustain itself. Finite narratives are finite for a reason. They can’t hold too much or they’re going to burst. The Nest never even comes close to the bursting point, maybe because of its setting. Instead of being in a small confined space, the film takes place in a large confined space, a warehouse. Because of the storytelling economy, the warehouse never seems too big; people move around and they weren’t necessarily in the same shots as other people. The physical space lets Siri compose his shots wide, instead of claustrophobically, because The Nest is not a small, claustrophobic intensity movie. It’s more like… well, Die Hard. Or even Die Hard 2, just because there’s a big budget and a war criminal.

A lot of the film’s strength comes from the cast and what they have to do. I remembered Samy Naceri from Taxi and he’s a movie star and he’s a good one, holding everything together nicely at the beginning. But his friendship with Benoît Magimel becomes important and the film’s attention to it is particularly good. The main cop, Nadia Farès, is good too and she’s got the central action hero role here so, really, she doesn’t have much to do. The enigmatic ex-firefighter night watchmen, played by Pascal Greggory, is probably the film’s most compelling character, just because it gives the viewer very little and Greggory does such a good job.

When I think of French action movies, I think of Luc Besson (in fact, I was shocked he didn’t produce The Nest or something–at least during the credits, after it started I could tell he didn’t, just from the film’s maturity). Pointing out The Nest is superior to American action movies is useless, but it’s still a singular achievement. It’s a good action movie, well-directed and well-acted (another modern rarity, that combination), and it’s narratively sound….

I’m so glad I didn’t let the IMDb clowns scare me away from it.

3.5/4★★★½

CREDITS

Directed by Florent Emilio Siri; written by Siri and Jean-Francois Tarnowski; director of photography, Giovanni Fiore Coltellacci; edited by Christophe Danilo and Olivier Gajan; music by Alexandre Desplat; production designer, Bertrand Seitz; produced by Claude Carrere, Guillaume Godard and Patrick Gouyou-Beauchamps; released by Pathé.

Starring Samy Naceri (Nasser), Benoit Magimel (Santino), Nadia Fares (Laborie), Pascal Greggory (Louis), Sami Bouajila (Selim), Anisia Uzeyman (Nadia), Richard Sammel (Winfried), Valerio Mastandrea (Giovanni), Martial Odone (Martial), Martin Amic (Spitz), Alexandre Hamidi (Tony) and Angelo Infanti (Abedin Nexhep).


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