Focus Features

Moonrise Kingdom (2012, Wes Anderson)

With Moonrise Kingdom, Wes Anderson has finally put his directing craft so far ahead of his narrative, the narrative doesn’t matter. Neither, in Moonrise‘s case, do the actors. There isn’t a single outstanding performance in the film… maybe because Anderson and co-writer Roman Coppola don’t write one. They’re to the point of using Jason Schwartzman as a gag cameo.

Moonrise is purposefully, aggressively artificial–Bob Balaban plays an omnipotent, future narrator who interacts with the characters. But it doesn’t really matter because Anderson’s craft is outstanding and the writing is still decent. A lot of the scenes between preteen outcasts Jared Gilman and Kara Hayward are lovely.

Anderson shoots as much of the film as he can in profile; the camera pans to introduce new action instead of cutting. Partially due to the film’s artificiality–partially to Anderson and cinematographer Robert D. Yeoman’s photography–it works. Moonrise isn’t supposed to be real. For instance, Tilda Swinton’s reduced to her job title.

Swinton’s no great shakes in the picture, but she’s not supposed to be. She’s gag casting, much like Schwartzman and Harvey Keitel. Keitel’s the best of those three. Bruce Willis and Edward Norton both do pretty well, though neither have enough material. Anderson and Coppola give Bill Murray absolutely nothing–he doesn’t even interact with his kids in the film, just barks near them. As his wife, Frances McDormand is better.

Moonrise Kingdom‘s a masterfully produced film. It’s just pointless, save demonstrating Anderson’s abilities as a director.

1/4

CREDITS

Directed by Wes Anderson; written by Anderson and Roman Coppola; director of photography, Robert D. Yeoman; edited by Andrew Weisblum; music by Alexandre Desplat; production designer, Adam Stockhausen; produced by Anderson, Scott Rudin, Jeffrey Dawson and Steven M. Rales; released by Focus Features.

Starring Jared Gilman (Sam), Kara Hayward (Suzy), Edward Norton (Scout Master Ward), Bruce Willis (Captain Sharp), Bill Murray (Walt Bishop), Frances McDormand (Laura Bishop), Tilda Swinton (Social Services), Jason Schwartzman (Cousin Ben), Harvey Keitel (Commander Pierce) and Bob Balaban (Narrator).


The American (2010, Anton Corbijn)

If someone had told me, I don’t think I would have believed Anton Corbijn got his start directing music videos. His direction of the American is so gentle and deliberate–so forcibly detached from his characters–it just doesn’t seem possible. Maybe they were all really well-directed music videos.

I hadn’t originally planned on rushing to see the American, which, it turns out, would have been a big mistake. I think the title’s meant as a joke (the source novel has a different one), because the film puts George Clooney–one of America’s most recognizable celebrities–in a completely not American film.

And Clooney’s the only American around in the film. But his presence isn’t played for comedy or irony–he even has big American ideals, though they’re never spelled out.

The film takes place over–at most–a month. It’s carefully paced, never exciting (it’s not a thriller), and extremely cautious. Think Our Man in Havana mixed with a Clouzot film, only without any humor.

And the ending works. Once it gets to the third act, it’s all brilliant, but there were a couple very bad places it could go. It goes to neither, doing something lovely and unexpected instead.

Clooney’s great–the American suggests he’s just going to get even better–and his supporting cast is wonderful. The two women, Thekla Reuten and Violante Placido, are amazing–Placido in particular. Reuten is good in a simpler role, Placido’s is rather complex.

It’s a quietly significant film.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Anton Corbijn; screenplay by Rowan Joffe, based on a novel by Martin Booth; director of photography, Martin Ruhe; edited by Andrew Hulme; music by Herbert Grönemeyer; production designer, Mark Digby; produced by Anne Carey, Jill Green, Ann Wingate, Grant Heslov and George Clooney; released by Focus Features.

Starring George Clooney (Jack), Violante Placido (Clara), Paolo Bonacelli (Father Benedetto), Thekla Reuten (Mathilde) and Johan Leysen (Pavel).


Shaun of the Dead (2004, Edgar Wright)

So, people told me Shaun of the Dead was good, but they kept describing it as something akin to Hot Fuzz and whatnot. It’s not a spoof of a zombie movie though. It’s a zombie movie with a couple losers discovering their skill sets make them good at surviving a zombie holocaust, if not excelling at it.

Actually, it’d be kind of easy to describe Shaun of the Dead as Clerks with zombies. Maybe too easy? I’m not sure. Wright’s a far better director than Kevin Smith, creating this intense atmosphere the audience can feel while the characters are a little too dull to figure out what’s going on. Where the film hits gold is making Simon Pegg both a bit of a twit and also a character for the audience to identify with. He’s actually the only male character in the film who doesn’t have a serious defect (Nick Frost is a drunken loser, Peter Serafinowicz is a yuppie jerk, Dylan Moran is an ass, Bill Nighy is a jerk) and so it’s not really surprising how Lucy Davis occasionally gives him the bedroom eyes. It’s not mentioned (Kate Ashfield plays Pegg’s love interest to far less effect, but it might be because Ashfield’s character is just written as the annoyed girlfriend… much like, you know, Clerks).

The film’s hilarious from the start and keeps a nice air of unpredictably about it. Zombie films feature this ragtag cast of characters, thrown together, but not Shaun. It’s far more… realistic.

3.5/4★★★½

CREDITS

Directed by Edgar Wright; written by Simon Pegg and Wright; director of photography, David M. Dunlap; edited by Chris Dickens; music by Dan Mudford and Pete Woodhead; production designer, Marcus Rowland; produced by Nina Park; released by Focus Features.

Starring Simon Pegg (Shaun), Kate Ashfield (Liz), Nick Frost (Ed), Lucy Davis (Dianne), Dylan Moran (David), Peter Serafinowicz (Pete), Bill Nighy (Philip), Jessica Hynes (Yvonne) and Penelope Wilton (Barbara).


The Limits of Control (2009, Jim Jarmusch)

Someone–Ebert maybe–is going to laud The Limits of Control. The nicest thing one can really say about it is it isn’t abjectly terrible. There aren’t many bad performances (Tilda Swinton’s lame and Bill Murray’s awful and Isaach De Bankolé is weak when he has more lines than the Terminator) and Jarmusch really does know how to frame a shot. But it’s a piece of malarky. It’s supposed to come off as subversive and anti-American in the end–I can’t really explain how without spoiling–and instead it just comes off as silly. You want to see sublime, subversive commentary on American foreign policy, read Warren Ellis’s Crécy. At its best, Limits of Control is obvious… at its worst, well, to put it bluntly, Jarmusch is full of shit.

Jarmusch has always been–often been–an international filmmaker. Limits of Control is a fine example. Set in Spain with an African leading man, there are Mexican actors, British, American, Spanish, probably a French actor in there somewhere… Jarmusch’s has got some great plays with language. But this exotic cast list is mostly just a diversion. It’s to make the audience feel like he or she is watching something, well, art house.

The most striking success of Limits of Control is its commentary on the spy thriller genre in general. It owes a lot to Hitchcock’s 1930s British thrillers, with the MacGuffin somewhat extracted from the film. The result is a boring two hours of people acting suspiciously with coincidence after coincidence occurring without a thread to tie them. So what. Jarmusch could have cut the pay-off scenes out of The Lady Vanishes and he’d get a similar effect. Well, maybe not The Lady Vanishes because so much of it relies on chemistry and Limits of Control has none. It’s like Jarmusch knew he’d have to do something to get people–critics–to talk about his film, so he made Paz de la Huerta take off her clothes for every scene. What’s the effect? Explicit nudity’s boring. Wow, good one. It’s not like Paul Verhoeven didn’t make explicit nudity boring fifteen years ago.

At times it seems like Jarmusch is going somewhere. Like it’s going to be The Courier’s Tragedy or something. It never is. In fact, the best way to describe The Limits of Control is The Courier’s Tragedy without the point. It’s Jarmusch spinning his wheels until the end–the big reveal in The Limits of Control is, literally, a pin.

Then some of it slowly starts to make sense. But it’s dumb, so who cares?

John Hurt’s great. Jean-François Stévenin has a good small role. de la Huerta isn’t bad. When he’s not talking De Bankolé is great.

I think Jarmusch was going for some kind of mystical realism with the film too.

He fails.

Oh, and how did he misuse Christopher Doyle? The colors are all flat and dead.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Written and directed by Jim Jarmusch; director of photography, Christopher Doyle; edited by Jay Rabinowitz; music by Boris; production designer, Eugenio Caballero; produced by Gretchen McGowan and Stacey E. Smith; released by Focus Features.

Starring Isaach De Bankolé (Lone Man), Alex Descas (Creole), Jean-François Stévenin (French), Óscar Jaenada (Waiter), Luis Tosar (Violin), Paz de la Huerta (Nude), Tilda Swinton (Blonde), Youki Kudoh (Molecules), John Hurt (Guitar), Gael García Bernal (Mexican), Hiam Abbass (Driver) and Bill Murray (American).


Ash Wednesday (2002, Edward Burns)

Burns must have cast Elijah Wood because of Lord of the Rings, figured his presence would boost Ash Wednesday‘s salability. At some point during filming, as Burns watched Wood’s useless, laughable, whiny performance… he must have regretted it. It’s not like the film’s only problem is Wood–far from it–but he’s just so terrible, so incompetent, the whole proposition becomes ludicrous when he appears.

And the appearance of his character is actually one of the film’s other primary problems. The first twenty-five minutes–save a useless prologue, probably only in there to get Wood on screen at the outset in order to satisfy that rabid Elijah Wood fan-base–are a solid, boring day in the life. Burns isn’t going for metaphor with the title, the film takes place on February 16, 1983. He’s playing a bar owner who goes about his morning, trying to get to church and stuck hearing about his brother (Wood)–supposedly deceased–back from the grave. He’s got good mobsters, bad mobsters and a priest pestering him. It’s a solid twenty-five minutes, because there’s no indication Wood’s still alive, and it’s just day-in-the-life and Burns does it well. I wonder if he distracted himself from Wood’s performance with the exquisite direction. He futzes with the focus for effect at times and it doesn’t work, but Ash Wednesday has some wonderful composition. It’s so good, one can forgive Burns his sepia filter, which he must have been using to give it the 1983 look. It doesn’t really work, but, again, it’s forgivable.

The problems with the script are a different matter. Burns’s protagonist is barely a character. The more people talk about him–the main source of information about the stoic, somber individual–the more difficult it becomes to reconcile Burns’s portrayal with the imagined personality. One of Burns’s greatest strengths as a writer-director-actor is his ability to write himself a good character. He’s not Marlon Brando–in most of his films, the flashier performances go to other actors–but here, he misfires. Presumably, the Wood role was supposed to be flashier, but instead it’s like a mob comedy–like that movie with Charles Grodin and Martin Short where Short plays a little kid–Wood is playing a tough guy.

There’s also an inherent problem with the genre. The Irish crime genre has almost no successes–all I can think of, recently, is The Departed. Almost every other notable one–I’m thinking primarily of State of Grace–is a disaster. Burns certainly doesn’t bring anything new to it, but there’s a potential to Ash Wednesday he doesn’t seem aware of.

If the film had been a day-in-the-life where Wood doesn’t show up until the last act (or not at all)–and Burns had written himself a better role–it would have been something interesting… a character drama set in a crime-friendly environment. Would have been solid.

It’s just a shame such good direction–and such a good cast (Oliver Platt, James Handy, Peter Gerety)–got wasted on such a poor effort. David Shire’s music too. It’s a simple, repetitive piano score. Boring, like the entire movie should have been.

Still, without Wood, it would have at least been passable… though Rosario Dawson doesn’t have an ounce of chemistry with anyone in the film.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Written and directed by Edward Burns; director of photography, Russell Lee Fine; edited by David Greenwald; music by David Shire; production designer, Susan Block; produced by Margot Bridger and Burns; released by Focus Features.

Starring Edward Burns (Francis Sullivan), Elijah Wood (Sean Sullivan), Rosario Dawson (Grace Quinonez), Oliver Platt (Moran), Pat McNamara (Murph), James Handy (Father Mahoney), Michael Mulheren (Pulaski), Malachy McCourty (Whitey) and Peter Gerety (Uncle Handy).


Milk (2008, Gus Van Sant)

As Milk‘s opening titles ran, it occurred to me Danny Elfman scored it. It doesn’t sound anything like Elfman’s norm–you know, the modified Batman music–but it sounded like the kind of score Danny Elfman should be doing (and should have been doing for years). Milk‘s a biopic–and always feels like one, thanks in great part to Van Sant’s reliance on contemporary news footage for storytelling. It’s a solid move, but it makes me think of Good Night, and Good Luck–which isn’t a bad thing, since Milk‘s an entry in that same genre. The dramatic, filmic biography… but not quite biography, since none of Harvey Milk’s life before the present action begins gets covered. Milk‘s Harvey Milk spends the eight years of the film’s present action becoming someone the man in the opening couldn’t have imagined. Where Milk succeeds so greatly is in the surprise–even knowing the story (or some of it, or just paying attention to the news footage at the beginning of the film), it’s impossible to forecast how the film’s Milk is going to develop.

It’s not Sean Penn’s best performance, but it’s got to be the only one of his best performances where he’s likable. He creates an almost magical character–the scenes with him giving speeches for unions or handing out a bouquet of flowers in a black barbershop–these should be unbelievable scenes (even if the real Milk did exactly the same things), but Penn makes them work. But the character is far from perfect–Van Sant could have easily approached Milk with some kind of destiny angle, but he doesn’t. Penn’s character is a human being, full of mistakes, full of regret, even if he does have a positive disposition. Penn’s played lots of protagonists–he hasn’t done anything in a long time–but in Milk, he plays a hero (his first?). No shock, he’s great at it.

Van Sant’s got an amazing supporting cast. Milk‘s got a huge cast, but the principal supporting actors–Emile Hirsch, Josh Brolin, Diego Luna–all standout. Hirsch and Brolin probably have an easier time (though both of them have a couple fantastic scenes), but only when I list them next to Luna, who’s got the film’s most difficult role. He plays an annoying, clingy drama queen (sorry, is there a PC term for drama queen); he’s got to irritate the viewer, cause some eye-rolling, but still be a sympathetic person. It’s a very difficult performance and, at the beginning, it doesn’t seem like Luna’s going to pull it off… but then he does.

Actually, a lot of Milk is in a similar situation. It’s always a solid motion picture, but it doesn’t skyrocket until after the halfway mark. The quiet introduction of Brolin, the deepening of Penn’s character, it all takes off. Before, Van Sant feels like he’s experimenting, trying to get the tone right. As it turns out, he is getting the tone right (presumably, it’s not an experiment, but a procedure to get the film to the right place). It’s easily Van Sant’s best film, but Dustin Lance Black’s script doesn’t hurt at all–the script’s mostly passive, but Black has a couple great approaches. Brolin’s place in the plot, for example, is great.

I haven’t mentioned James Franco yet. He deserves a better paragraph than this one will be. He’s astounding–it’s hard to imagine eight years ago I dreaded the very sight of his name–he keeps getting better as an actor. At its most successful, he and Penn make Milk.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Gus Van Sant; written by Dustin Lance Black; director of photography, Harris Savides; edited by Elliot Graham; music by Danny Elfman; production designer, Bill Groom; produced by Dan Jinks and Bruce Cohen; released by Focus Features.

Starring Sean Penn (Harvey Milk), Emile Hirsch (Cleve Jones), Josh Brolin (Dan White), Diego Luna (Jack Lira), Alison Pill (Anne Kronenberg), Victor Garber (Mayor George Moscone), Denis O’Hare (John Briggs), Joseph Cross (Dick Pabich), Stephen Spinella (Rick Stokes), Lucas Grabeel (Danny Nicoletta), Brandon Boyce (Jim Rivaldo), Zvi Howard Rosenman (David Goodstein), Kelvin Yu (Michael Wong) and James Franco (Scott Smith).


Burn After Reading (2008, Joel and Ethan Coen)

The Coens usually write tight scripts. Burn After Reading doesn’t have a particularly tight script. Instead, it’s got a bunch of great performances and funny scenes–astoundingly good dialogue (their use of curse words for humorous effect is noteworthy)–and some great details. But the film isn’t really much of a story. Literally speaking, it’s about what happens after the CIA decides to transfer John Malkovich over to the State Department for no specified reason. In the film’s first uproarious exchange, Malkovich objects to being classified an alcoholic by a Mormon (Burn came before Prop 8, so there–unfortunately–isn’t any mention of alien planets). But the film isn’t really about Malkovich. He’s in quite a bit of it–and is excellent in the film in ways he hasn’t gotten to be excellent in quite a while–but he’s not the lead by any means.

Burn distracts from its lack of protagonist or tight plotting with the funny business. There’s a reasonably traditional first act with Malkovich, but only until it introduces Tilda Swinton (as Malkovich’s wife) and George Clooney (as her lover). Swinton turns in the film’s only bad performance and it isn’t really her fault, it’s the Coen’s. She plays a pediatrician who’s cruel to kids (in front of their parents). Doesn’t seem like she’d make it long in that professional. But it gets a little worse–I don’t think the Coens even bother to name her well in the film. I’m seeing her character’s name in the credits and it’s something of a surprise… like I only would have figured it out through process of elimination.

Anyway, once they show up, it’s not long before Frances McDormand and Brad Pitt arrive. McDormand and Pitt have lots of the film’s best scenes. Pitt shows off why he’s such a great comic actor–they’re both playing dopes, with McDormand a little smarter (only a little). As far as the performances go, Clooney probably comes in second behind Malkovich. While Malkovich gives this great performance, it’s just this technically excellent actor with good material. Clooney–in his Coen Brothers mode–creates this wonderful character, full of tics and idiosyncrasies. Much like the film itself, he exists to amuse.

The only other supporting roles of note are Richard Jenkins, David Rasche and J.K. Simmons. Jenkins does very well–but he always does very well–even if he doesn’t have much to work with. Rasche and Simmons have these fantastic scenes together, which is where Burn After Reading is so frustrating. Their scenes together–two of them–are comic gold, but the scenes’ presence in the film itself is what works against Burn After Reading as a solid narrative.

It’s the Coen Brothers making a movie to get belly laughs and not taking anything else into account. I’m sure one could argue the lunacy of the plot is some kind of post-modern spy movie, but it’d be inaccurate. Burn After Reading is a really funny movie. It probably ought to be something more, given the numerous excellent performances (McDormand, who I didn’t mention before, only creates a caricature, but it’s a good one). But its failing in that department actually doesn’t feel like much of a failure.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Written and directed by Joel and Ethan Coen; director of photography, Emmanuel Lubezki; edited by Roderick Jaynes; music by Carter Burwell; production designer, Jess Gonchor; produced by Joel Coen, Ethan Coen, Tim Bevan and Eric Fellner; released by Focus Features.

Starring George Clooney (Harry Pfarrer), Frances McDormand (Linda Litzke), John Malkovich (Osbourne Cox), Tilda Swinton (Katie Cox), Brad Pitt (Chad Feldheimer), Richard Jenkins (Ted Treffon), Elizabeth Marvel (Sandy Pfarrer), David Rasche (CIA Officer), J.K. Simmons (CIA Superior) and Olek Krupa (Krapotkin).


Hollywoodland (2006, Allen Coulter)

Hollywoodland is not a narrative mess. It’d be a far more interesting (and far less boring) two hours if it were. Instead, Paul Bernbaum’s plotting is intentional and considered. Neither Bernbaum nor director Allen Coulter seem to understand the problems with having two protagonists, not having anything to do with each other, juxtaposed for a couple hours, however.

It starts really strong, with Adrien Brody fantastic as the glib private detective. He has a solid sidekick and love interest in Caroline Dhavernas and Coulter does do a great job giving Hollywoodland the right feel. The lack of a definite time period–Hollywoodland takes place in 1959, but the flashbacks seem to go back ten years–really hurts it. I guess that aside will be the segue into the flashbacks. The first few, which chronicle Ben Affleck’s career woes and romance with Diane Lane, aren’t bad. Then it becomes clear Diane Lane isn’t actually going to be in the film very much and her mediocre acting quickly descends into shrillness as she tries again for an Oscar. She’s not the worst (Bob Hoskins is far, far worse), but she becomes rather tiresome.

Affleck, on the other hand, deserves his own two hour film, not just this one’s poorly framed flashbacks. He’s great–better, as time goes on, than Brody. Because the movie eventually falls apart, as Brody’s story turns into the standard failed father, disillusioned detective bit. The end’s just awful.

Michael Berenbaum’s cinematography is wonderful, giving the film both rich color but also sharpness. The score’s good. It’s a well-produced film, not question, the script is just bad. The beginning–the script’s–is great, particularly in the dialogue and the way people interact. These qualities disappear quickly (it’s almost like the opening got worked on and nothing else got revised).

Jeffrey DeMunn’s good, Lois Smith’s good, even Robin Tunney’s good. Molly Parker is criminally wasted.

The big problem with Hollywoodland–conceptually–is in its approach. It’s a mystery about the death of George Reeves, but then goes and reveals his death is actually nowhere near as interesting as his life.

Luckily, it’s long enough and starts to go bad around ninety-five minutes, maybe sooner, so I wasn’t disappointed by the ending… just glad it was finally over.

1/4

CREDITS

Directed by Allen Coulter; written by Paul Bernbaum; director of photography, Jonathan Freeman; edited by Michael Berenbaum; music by Marcelo Zarvos; production designer, Leslie McDonald; produced by Glenn Williamson; released by Focus Features.

Starring Adrien Brody (Louis Simo), Diane Lane (Toni Mannix), Ben Affleck (George Reeves), Bob Hoskins (Eddie Mannix), Robin Tunney (Leonore Lemmon), Kathleen Robertson (Carol Van Ronkel), Lois Smith (Helen Bessolo), Phillip MacKenzie (Bill Bliss), Larry Cedar (Chester Sinclair), Caroline Dhavernas (Kit Holliday), Jeffrey DeMunn (Art Weissman), Joe Spano (Howard Strickling), Kevin Hare (Robert Condon) and Molly Parker (Laurie Simo).


The Constant Gardener (2005, Fernando Meirelles)

With two major exceptions, The Constant Gardener is defined by what it is not rather than what it is… It is not a thriller, it is not a mystery, it might not even be a narrative. It is a (justified) condemnation of Western pharmaceutical companies–with Western government’s express permission–treatment of sick African peoples. It’s also a masterfully made film; Fernando Meirelles probably makes two errors throughout. Besides the wonderful cinematography, the editing is exquisite (possibly the first time I’ve ever described editing with that word). But, mostly due to the presence of Ralph Fiennes and some physically realized daydreams, The Constant Gardener comes off a lot like The English Patient, only relevant.

The film, rather interestingly, so inhuman, so vile, a James Bond villain would be taking notes. These villains–played wonderfully by Danny Huston and Bill Nighy (Huston’s just magnificent)–are, of course, members of the British government. While the film could be an exploration of evil men who do evil things but still play cricket with their children in filmic moments meant to bring attention to that contradiction, it is not.

The first forty minutes are Rachel Weisz playing Joan of Arc. It’s possibly Weisz’s best (or only good) performance, but since she is playing the finest human being ever to walk (or possibly levitate above) the earth, Meirelles would have to be incompetent to not get such a performance out of her. And Meirelles is far from incompetent. He gets more humanity out of Fiennes, with his stylized cinéma vérité in domestic situations, than anyone else ever has. Following Weisz’s death (it’s not a spoiler, the film opens with it then awkwardly goes into flashback for forty minutes), Fiennes takes over on his investigation into her death. His investigation being the most boring investigation I can ever remember seeing in a film. It’s long and boring and predictable (there is no mystery to be solved really) and the film’s filled with scenes for edifying the audience in regards to what’s going on in Africa with drug companies.

I would have said it was a preaching-to-the-choir film, but then I remembered when it was out and I know a lot of dumb people who went to go see it, so hopefully it did inform. Hopefully it did make some really ignorant people realize what’s going on.

But as a film? As a story? Meirelles goes so far as to mimic a bunch of English Patient shots. Like shots from the poster.

Without the politics, The Constant Gardener would have been–well, it wouldn’t have been. But all there is to the film is the information and the emotional effect of seeing it. Weisz’s death, the supposed impetus, is as useless as the miscarriage her character suffers for no reason other than to introduce a character, a mystery, and kill some time, make the audience feel even sorry for Joan of Arc.

Pete Postlethwaite shows up for a bit and it’s nice to see him. Gerard McSorley is good.

The film does succeed (I mean, I’m referring to it as a film, aren’t I?) on some levels–and maybe it succeeds on all the ones it’s trying to succeed on–but it’s lack of narrative ambition is startling and somewhat distressing.

1/4

CREDITS

Directed by Fernando Meirelles; screenplay by Jeffrey Caine, based on the novel by John le Carré; director of photography, César Charlone; edited by Claire Simpson; music by Alberto Iglesias; production designer, Mark Tildesley; produced by Simon Channing Williams; released by Focus Features.

Starring Ralph Fiennes (Justin Quayle), Rachel Weisz (Tessa Quayle), Danny Huston (Sandy Woodrow), Bill Nighy (Sir Bernard Pellegrin), Pete Postlethwaite (Lorbeer), Hubert Koundé (Dr. Arnold Bluhm) and Gerard McSorley (Sir Kenneth Curtiss).


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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