Chloe Sevigny

The Cosmopolitans (2014, Whit Stillman)

The Cosmopolitans opens with some visual sarcasm, but it quickly moves to verbal. Writer-director Stillman is somewhat merciless, introducing characters just to comment on the absurd pretentiousness of the principals. Of course, Stillman doesn’t let the observers off easy either. It just takes longer for them to become clear; maybe the American leads are just too obvious.

Cosmopolitans is a series pilot (which, tragically, did not get picked up) and Stillman does spend time establishing his characters. But he doesn’t have much of an epical structure–they meet, they talk, they go to a party–and Stillman’s got no urgency with divulging. More information doesn’t necessarily make the characters more entertaining or more affecting.

The three leads–presumably–are Adam Brody, Jordan Rountree, and Carrie MacLemore. They’re Americans in Paris. Brody and Rountree have claimed Parisian status and probably need to be treated for intense Francophilia. Rountree’s lovesick, Brody’s affably brooding. Meanwhile, MacLemore is in Paris for a guy who abandons her for his writing. Because Frenchman.

Brody and Rountree take themselves way too seriously, while MacLemore has a somewhat better sense of her situation.

Adriano Giannini plays Brody and Rountree’s older, Italian friend who spends most of his time making fun of the Americans. He’s gentle about it, as opposed to Chloë Sevigny, who’s brutal about it. Luckily, Brody and Rountree are so pretentious, they can’t identify the digs as digs. Lots of funny barbs. Lots.

Freddy Åsblom has the showy part of Brody and Rountree’s rich, native friend. He pokes fun at them without Sevigny’s loathing or Giannini’s bewilderment. He ends up with some of the funniest moments.

Of course, eventually it’s Giannini and Sevigny who get revealed–either to another character or just to the viewer (but only because Brody and Rountree are oblivious). Stillman spares no one. He maintains a light tone, affable characters, and an adoration of Paris throughout. The Cosmopolitans might mock its leads’ Francophilia, but the pilot is delightfully drenched in it.

Beautiful photography from Antoine Monod, subtle, sharp editing from Sophie Corra, a great soundtrack–it’s a technical marvel. Stillman’s composition and direction are fantastic.

MacLemore gives the best performance of the leads. Brody and Rountree are a tad shallow, MacLemore has actual backstory and some sense. It’s a better part. Giannini and Sevigny are great; Sevigny’s deliveries are awesome. And Åsblom is quite good. His role is a little more difficult than it seems at first blush.

Again, it’s tragic The Cosmopolitans didn’t go to series; what Stillman and cast and crew did get done is wonderful stuff.

3/3Highly Recommended

CREDITS

Written and directed by Whit Stillman; director of photography, Antoine Monod; edited by Sophie Corra; produced by Alex Corven Caronia; released by Amazon Studios.

Starring Carrie MacLemore (Aubrey), Adam Brody (Jimmy), Jordan Rountree (Hal), Adriano Giannini (Sandro), Freddy Åsblom (Fritz), and Chloë Sevigny (Vicky).


Love & Friendship (2016, Whit Stillman)

Love & Friendship opens with some non-traditional portrait cards for its cast of characters. The actors all appear in the opening titles, but then director Stillman breaks out introductions to the characters. Along with some narration. There’s some narration early on, which goes away almost immediately. Because narration might show a little too much of the film’s hand and Stillman wants to play it real close.

Everyone’s character gets an introduction card–done with portrait effect nodding to silent film techniques–except Kate Beckinsale. She’s not just the lead, she’s the object of everyone’s attention, which almost seems like the same thing as the film’s subject. But not so. With another twenty minutes or so, maybe Stillman could’ve made Beckinsale the film’s subject, but Love & Friendship runs a quick ninety-four minutes. There’s only so much he can do and wants to do. Beckinsale’s character might be deserving of a character study, but Stillman’s making a comedy and a light one. So object of attention she remains.

Though Stillman does obfuscate just enough to keep Beckinsale unknowable. Though no one in Love & Friendship is exactly knowable. Most character development comes out in characters discussing other ones, revealing bits and pieces of gossip and backstory, which informs how discussed characters play out, but there’s always a wink. Chloë Sevigny’s role in the film is mostly just to be knowing. She’s the wink at the audience.

Stillman takes his time introducing characters and storylines. When the film opens, Beckinsale and sidekick Kelly Campbell are just arriving to mooch off some of Beckinsale’s dead husband’s relations. It’s set in eighteenth century English society, but a lot of the film’s humor relates to just how brazen Beckinsale can be. She’s got a title and no money. She’s got a daughter and no husband. She also provokes a lot of rumor and gossip, which the audience gets in on before Beckinsale even shows up in the film. Stillman lays the groundwork for introducing her–as sensationally as possible given the realities of the setting–but also for what’s going to come in the second and third acts. He doesn’t foreshadow. He goes out of his way to avoid it, instead relying on Richard Van Oosterhout’s precise photography, Benjamin Esdraffo’s score, and Sophie Corra’s awesome editing to package each scene in the film as a separate moment. The actors give the film a continuous tempo, not Stillman’s script. Stillman’s script is about the smiles, the laughs, the intrigue, but he relies on the actors to keep the characters going.

It’s important because he’s introducing new, important ones throughout. Even if they got a portrait card in the first act, a lot goes on in Love & Friendship and Stillman uses the device for charm and humor more than establishing the ground situation. The ground situation comes out in the dialogue, the actors deliver the dialogue. Stillman directs to emphasize each exchange. Occasionally with some eclectic composition choices, always with perfectly timed ones. Again, Corra’s editing is essential to the film’s success.

The acting is all great. Beckinsale holds it all together. With everyone talking about nothing except her character, she’s always the focus, even if she’s not in the scene. So when she does come back onscreen, she doesn’t just have to do the scene, she’s also got to bridge her absence and the discussed character or plot development. Beckinsale, Stillman, and Corra get it right every time.

Xavier Samuel is good as Beckinsale’s too young suitor, Emma Greenwell is great as his disapproving sister. Morfydd Clark is good as Beckinsale’s daughter, who should be looking for a suitor of her own. The relationship with Beckinsale and Clark ought to forecast where Love & Friendship is going to end up, but it doesn’t. Stillman doesn’t want any peeking.

Tom Bennett is hilarious as Clark’s suitor, a rich buffoon. Justin Edwards is quietly excellent as Greenwell’s husband.

Sevigny’s perfect in her bemusement.

Love & Friendship is a delightful, thoughtful, ambitious, beauteous, little, grandiose picture.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Whit Stillman; screenplay by Stillman, based on a novella by Jane Austen; director of photography, Richard Van Oosterhout; edited by Sophie Corra; music by Benjamin Esdraffo; produced by Lauranne Bourrachot, Katie Holly, and Stillman; released by Amazon Studios.

Starring Kate Beckinsale (Lady Susan Vernon), Chloë Sevigny (Alicia Johnson), Xavier Samuel (Reginald DeCourcy), Emma Greenwell (Catherine Vernon), Morfydd Clark (Frederica Vernon), Tom Bennett (Sir James Martin), Kelly Campbell (Mrs Cross), Justin Edwards (Charles Vernon), James Fleet (Sir Reginald DeCourcy), Jemma Redgrave (Lady DeCourcy), Jenn Murray (Lady Lucy Manwaring), and Stephen Fry (Mr. Johnson).


Boys Don’t Cry (1999, Kimberly Peirce)

Director Peirce makes an interesting choice with Boys Don’t Cry–she never gives the viewer enough information about Hilary Swank’s protagonist. As a result, it’s occasionally difficult to think of Swank as the protagonist. For the first eighty or so minutes of the film, Swank is just this skinny little guy who falls in with a questionable crowd of rednecks. Nothing in Swank’s performance indicates the viewer is supposed to take the character as anything but male (but Peirce frequently contradicts that approach, sometimes for dramatic purposes, sometimes for filmic).

Boys is often pointlessly over-stylized with time lapse photography and, at one absurd point, Peirce and co-writer Andy Bienen suggest its the way Chloë Sevigny (as Swank’s girlfriend) sees the world. But not because she’s huffing whip-its, which is the only reasonable explanation.

But the performances Peirce gets are astounding (so much so, when the actual facts show up at the end, there’s a disconnect between the actors and the people they portrayed). Swank’s fantastic–in that first eighty minutes, Boys is a shocking study of masculinity as Swank experiences it and the viewer does with him. Sevigny’s great. Peter Sarsgaard and Brendan Sexton III as the redneck villains are amazing; Sarsgaard gets more depth, so when Peirce shows it for psychopath Sexton, it’s even more affecting.

Excellent supporting performance from Alicia Goranson.

Awful Nathan Larson score.

Peirce can’t crack Boys; she’s too fixed on having a thesis statement. The actors ably carry the film to success.

2.5/4★★½

CREDITS

Directed by Kimberly Peirce; written by Peirce and Andy Bienen; director of photography, Jim Denault; edited by Tracy Granger and Lee Percy; music by Nathan Larson; production designer, Michael Shaw; produced by John Hart, Jeff Sharp and Christine Vachon; released by Fox Searchlight Pictures.

Starring Hilary Swank (Brandon Teena), Chloë Sevigny (Lana Tisdel), Peter Sarsgaard (John Lotter), Brendan Sexton III (Tom Nissen), Alison Folland (Kate), Alicia Goranson (Candace), Matt McGrath (Lonny), Rob Campbell (Brian) and Jeannetta Arnette (Lana’s Mom).


Trees Lounge (1996, Steve Buscemi)

I suppose it would be possible for Trees Lounge to be more depressing. It’s a character study; the epical part of the narrative forces the protagonist (writer, director, star Buscemi) to realize he does not just dislike himself, he’s never really liked himself, and he’s not just hurting people now, he’s always been hurting people.

Maybe the most stunning thing about the film–besides Buscemi’s direction of actors–is how he inserts humor into the mix. There’s a running gag with a kid never getting ice cream and when Buscemi falls asleep drunk at a wake, it’s played humorously. The first part is more “cleanly” funny (it also foreshadows how people in general do not think about how events effect others–something very important in the narrative towards the end), while the second is awkward. The film’s full of desperate alcoholics and occasionally Buscemi makes them funny, giving the viewer little warning.

Buscemi juxtaposes his character’s arc against Mark Boone Junior’s. The difference is in the self-realization (Trees Lounge might even have a happy ending, there’s about a fifteen percent chance).

He spends the first forty-five minutes of the film exploring the ground situation, then introduces one event to stir up the pot. It’s a lovely plot structure, made perfect by the excellent dialogue.

Amazing supporting performances abound–Boone is great, as is (especially) Chloë Sevigny. Daniel Baldwin and Mimi Rogers have superb small parts. Samuel L. Jackson is outstanding in a cameo.

It’s a fantastic, depressing film.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Written and directed by Steve Buscemi; director of photography, Lisa Rinzler; edited by Kate Williams; music by Evan Lurie; production designer, Steve Rosenzweig; produced by Chris Hanley and Brad Wyman; released by Orion Classics.

Starring Steve Buscemi (Tommy), Mark Boone Junior (Mike), Chloë Sevigny (Debbie), Anthony LaPaglia (Rob), Elizabeth Bracco (Theresa), Michael Buscemi (Raymond), Eszter Balint (Marie), Daniel Baldwin (Jerry), Mimi Rogers (Patty), Carol Kane (Connie), Debi Mazar (Crystal), Kevin Corrigan (Matthew), Samuel L. Jackson (Wendell) and Seymour Cassel (Uncle Al).


The Last Days of Disco (1998, Whit Stillman)

I don’t know how to start talking about The Last Days of Disco. I was going to start with saying I first saw it ten years ago (I first saw it on video), but then I realized I probably first saw it eleven years ago and eleven doesn’t have the same ring. People do like things in ten. Then I was going to start with saying I didn’t understand why it isn’t better known or better appreciated, but I guess I do know why it isn’t better known or better appreciated. It’s an unabashedly superior film. It was the first Whit Stillman film I saw and I still don’t think either of his previous works suggest he’s capable of this level of filmmaking.

Where Stillman excels–in terms of the script–is in creating this self-aware (which really comes into play for a joke near the end) envisioning of the disco era. Because he doesn’t deal with any of the modern (in 1998) disco stereotypes, except to point out they are stereotypes, Stillman’s disco club really is, as one character puts it, the greatest club ever. It’s impossible not to think so, not to understand why the characters have to keep going back, even though they talk about never going back. They’re part of a phenomenon and Stillman makes the audience part of it too. In some ways, it really reminds me of the new Star Wars movies–really, it does–because whether or not someone can dance (just like in Star Wars they don’t have any discernible lightsabering skill) doesn’t even fit into it. Stillman fills his dancing shots with as many recognizable faces as possible and leaves it to the viewer to come up with the reason Kate Beckinsale and Matt Ross are dancing next to each other, even though Ross is there with Tara Subkoff. These little narrative tricks, ones Stillman did exhibit in his previous films, make Last Days of Disco feel like a confrontation experience. To say it’s a film requiring a lot of brain power from its viewer is an understatement–Stillman’s composition alone (or Mark Suozzo’s occasional, beautiful score) requires the viewer to pay very close attention.

Which isn’t to say Stillman makes Last Days of Disco particularly dense or heady. He just forces, with his composition, a kind of attention–I think the only thing I’d compare it to is Barry Lyndon. You have to notice the tree outside Beckinsale and Chloë Sevigny’s apartment. You miss something if you don’t.

The acting is all spectacular. Seeing the film again, I remember when I had high hopes for Mackenzie Astin’s acting career. Sevigny gives an amazing lead performance. She’s quiet in so much of the film–most of the talking comes from Beckinsale (as a spectacular bitch–she’s just fantastic in making this dislikable character utterly compelling) and Chris Eigeman. I was talking about how good Sevigny is in the film… got sidetracked, sorry. She’s so quiet, just watching, looking, and then Stillman gives her these big–but quiet–moments and she nails all of them. The acting from her and Beckinsale is simply amazing, from the first moment they walk into the film.

Also great is Matt Keeslar, who I’ve longed supported (starting with seeing him in this film). He gets the closet thing to a male protagonist role in the film. He’s great–walking through it with a bemused look–but then Stillman throws all sorts of character revelations at him and he handles every one perfectly.

The supporting cast–Burr Steers, David Thornton (both have some great lines)–is excellent.

I think the first time I saw The Last Days of Disco, I watched it a lot and made other people watch it. I haven’t seen it in eight years, which is way too long to go between viewings.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Written, produced and directed by Whit Stillman; director of photography, John Thomas; edited by Andrew Hafitz and Jay Pires; music by Mark Suozzo; production designer, Ginger Tougas; released by Gramercy Pictures.

Starring Chloë Sevigny (Alice), Kate Beckinsale (Charlotte), Chris Eigeman (Des), Mackenzie Astin (Jimmy), Matt Keeslar (Josh), Robert Sean Leonard (Tom), Jennifer Beals (Nina), Matt Ross (Dan), Tara Subkoff (Holly), Burr Steers (Van), David Thornton (Bernie) and Jaid Barrymore (Tiger Lady).


Zodiac (2007, David Fincher)

If Steven Spielberg used to be “the kid who’d never grow up,” I always figured David Fincher would always be “the disaffected teen who never grew up,” which is why Zodiac is so surprising. It’s a mature, thoughtful work, one I wouldn’t have even associated with Fincher if I hadn’t known. It’s calm and thoughtful, opening with the old Paramount and Warner Bros. logos, with a score from David Shire–the goal doesn’t seem to be to emulate a 1970s movie (the hit-heavy soundtrack wouldn’t have happened yet), but to reorient the viewer into that time period. When Fincher gets to the early eighties, he’s got this establishing shot at an airport and a plane takes off and there’s something really beautiful about it. Planes take off, whatever, three a minute and on sunny days, like this day in the film, it probably looks really nice… but I’d spent two and a half hours with the Zodiac killer, so it really jarred me. Made me appreciate Fincher not as an aesthetically pleasing director, which he’d always (ideally) been, but as one who could find the extraordinary in the everyday, which he’d never been.

Zodiac shifts its attention between the crimes, the reporters, and the police. For a while, it’s all the crimes and the reporters and for a while it’s all the crimes and the police. It seems like, at the beginning, it’s going to follow Jake Gyllenhaal–he’ll lead the viewer through the story–but then he disappears and, even before he does, it becomes clear Zodiac‘s not following a character-centered narrative. It’s not even about the effects of obsession on the characters. It shows the effects, but it’s really just a very straightforward narrative–first of the Zodiac killings from the San Francisco Chronicle‘s point of view, then from the investigating inspectors (I love how San Francisco calls them inspectors), then from the book writer (Gyllenhaal) as he does he research. It ought to not work, since that narrative model is mostly gone these days. In some ways, the roving narrative and the music, it reminded me of Summer of Sam while watching it, then I had to correct my interior dialogue not to defame Zodiac with such a comparison.

Of the actors, Ruffalo is the best. He’s first billed, but his character remains the most–not enigmatic or sketchy, but off-center–then he has a little scene towards the end and I realized his story throughout the film occupied a whole layer of the narrative and it was great and he was doing some amazing work. Amazing Ruffalo work is, probably, the best acting there is to be seen anymore. As the Chronicle lacky then book author, Gyllenhaal’s good, maybe even excellent, since the film makes no bones about his character not exactly being relatable. He’s supposed to be a little lame. It’s the closest the film comes to making any judgment on its characters. Robert Downey Jr. really doesn’t have an above the title role, but he’s great when he’s in it, which is no surprise. It’s Anthony Edwards who gives the most surprisingly good performance, just because it’d never occurred to me he could be so good, which has more to do with me… well, no it doesn’t. It has to do with “ER,” but whatever.

I kept having to remind myself during the film, it’s not a good example of modern cinema. I was ready to skip down the street and sing the praises of American filmmaking like it was 1999 or something, then reality kept knocking, so I had to accept I’d just have to get Zodiac on DVD… It’s rather indulgent, I just realized; Fincher submerges the viewer and holds him or her down in that bathtub, not letting them loose until the final epilogue card fades. It’s an unbelievable achievement for him, a significant one for twenty-first century American cinema, and just a lovely experience.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Directed by David Fincher; written by James Vanderbilt, based on books by Robert Graysmith; director of photography, Harris Savides; edited by Angus Wall; music by David Shire; production designer, Donald Graham Burt; produced by Vanderbilt, Mike Medavoy, Arnold W. Messer, Bradley J. Fischer and Cean Chaffin; released by Paramount Pictures.

Starring Jake Gyllenhaal (Robert Graysmith), Mark Ruffalo (Inspector Dave Toschi), Robert Downey Jr. (Paul Avery), Anthony Edwards (Inspector Bill Armstrong), Brian Cox (Melvin Belli), Elias Koteas (Sgt. Jack Mulanax) and Chloë Sevigny (Melanie).


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Broken Flowers (2005, Jim Jarmusch)

If I had any foresight, I would have realized Broken Flowers wasn’t going to end well. Actually, most of the film is just a ruse to disguise that fact. Instead of thinking about how the film was going to turn out, I spent all my time marveling at Jarmusch. His composition, his dialogue, everything, just beautiful. The first hour of Broken Flowers is wondrous, to some degree because it’s the portion of the film most featuring Jeffrey Wright as Bill Murray’s detective novel-obsessed best friend. The relationship between Wright and Murray is the film’s high-point, with Jarmusch handling it… well, perfectly isn’t right, because it’s such a rare, fantastic relationship, there’s nothing available for comparison. The first twenty minutes of the film, featuring Murray and Wright going over to each other’s houses (they live next door to each other), set an expectation for Broken Flowers, one the next forty minutes do nothing to hinder.

Watching it transition from that friendship to the plot, Murray tracking down ex-girlfriends, I wondered how Jarmusch was going to manage. Basically, it’s all Murray, all the time. The viewer learns nothing about the girlfriends beyond the visible, certainly not the information Murray’s searching for, and each successive girlfriend is more mysterious than the last. So much so, when it finally gets to be Jessica Lange’s turn, she’s overshadowed by her character’s assistant, played by Chloë Sevigny. Sevigny’s hardly got any lines even, but something about the scene construction, she’s more active than Lange and more memorable. As the variety of the women’s lives takes over, some of Jarmusch’s construction techniques begin to show. The first visit, with Sharon Stone, is best. The last visit is worst, as it’s short and bored with itself, assuming the viewer is ready to get the film over with.

The end of the film would be infuriating if, like I mentioned, Jarmusch hadn’t fooled the viewer. There’s no good ending to certain films and Broken Flowers is one of those films. What Jarmusch manages to do, for the majority of the picture, is make the viewer not care what’s going to happen, because the scenic beauty is so great.

As far as actors, the most surprising performance was from Jeffrey Wright, just because I’ve never seen him act well (or even acceptably) before. Bill Murray’s good, best in those scenes with Wright and the ones with Sharon Stone, who’s good too. The rest of the performances are all fine, but no one really stands out. Christopher McDonald has a really restrained role and I’m used to him going a little nuts, so I spent that scene waiting for him to burst.

Broken Flowers is a spectacular disappointment, but whatever… most of it is excellent and all of it is beautifully made. Even the lame ending has some great camerawork.

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Directed by Jim Jarmusch; screenplay by Jarmusch, inspired by an idea from Bill Raden and Sara Driver; director of photography, Frederick Elmes; edited by Jay Rabinowitz; music by Mulatu Astatke; production designer, Mark Friedberg; produced by Jon Kilik and Stacey Smith; released by Focus Features.

Starring Bill Murray (Don Johnston), Jeffrey Wright (Winston), Sharon Stone (Laura), Frances Conroy (Dora), Jessica Lange (Carmen), Tilda Swinton (Penny), Julie Delpy (Sherry), Chloe Sevigny (Carmen’s assistant) and Christopher McDonald (Ron).


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