Isabella Rossellini

Enemy (2013, Denis Villeneuve)

Enemy opens with an incredibly cruel and unpleasant scene. It's almost like a dare to the viewer to keep going. The film only runs ninety minutes and the first thirty or so minutes is summary. Sort of. Director Villeneuve and screenwriter Javier Gullón spend this first third encouraging the viewer to guess where Enemy is going. As it turns out, that invitation is the film's only red herring–amid the litany of implied ones.

The film concerns an unhappy college lecturer (Jake Gyllenhaal), who happens to find he has a doppelgänger in an actor. Gyllenhaal's discontent has already driven his girlfriend (Mélanie Laurent) away; he fixates on this doppelgänger. The investigation is both Hitchcockian and not. Describing Villeneuve's style, which has as much to do with the sterile Toronto setting as it does anything else, is difficult and probably not particularly useful. It's exceptional filmmaking, but Enemy moves so fast, Villeneuve doesn't want the viewer to linger. Not because there are problems, but because lingering distracts from the film's purpose.

Once Gyllenhaal confronts the doppelgänger, the film's focus flips. Not to Gyllenhaal in the other role, but to Sarah Gadon as the doppelgänger's wife.

While Gyllenhaal is fantastic, Gadon is even better. The film never explains itself, but all of Gadon's thoughts and suspicions are discernible. Her expressiveness guides the viewer through the film.

The music from Danny Bensi and Saunder Jurriaans, Nicolas Bolduc's photography, Matthew Hannam's editing, it's all great.

Villeneuve, Gyllenhaal, Gadon, Gullón–they make something very special here.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Denis Villeneuve; screenplay by Javier Gullón, based on a novel by José Saramago; director of photography, Nicolas Bolduc; edited by Matthew Hannam; music by Danny Bensi and Saunder Jurriaans; production designer, Patrice Vermette; produced by M.A. Faura and Niv Fichman; released by Entertainment One.

Starring Jake Gyllenhaal (Adam + Anthony), Mélanie Laurent (Mary), Sarah Gadon (Helen) and Isabella Rossellini (Mother).


Wyatt Earp (1994, Lawrence Kasdan), the expanded edition

Thirty-nine years old when Wyatt Earp was released, all Kevin Costner needed to do to de-age himself twenty years was smile. During the young Earp days, Costner looks younger than costar Annabeth Gish, not to mention Linden Ashby (playing his younger brother).

The extended version of Wyatt Earp clocks in at three and a half hours. It’s not available on DVD, which is a shame, since it’s the only way to watch the film. Wyatt Earp is a tragedy, spending an hour setting up the character as an affable, hopeful (and a little simple) young man, then destroys him. If he weren’t destroyed, of course, he wouldn’t be much of a main character but I’d forgotten how affecting his destruction is to watch. The film is unique in its lack of acts–first, second and third–it follows the character from youth and, while it must skip some boring parts, contains little in the way of rising action. For example, there’s every indication Joanna Going is going to be as insignificant to the film overall as Téa Leoni. In fact, Leoni’s got more potential as a romantic interest than Going.

The romance between Costner and Going, the emotional reconstruction of his character, is one of the more singular things about the film, as is the friendship with Dennis Quaid’s Doc Holliday. For the first hour and a half, the strong emphasis on the Earp brothers (for someone who constantly derides the film, Michael Madsen has never been as good as he is in this film). The scenes with the brothers rarely allow for emotion in the first half (family being pre-decided) but the relationship with Holliday allows for not just wonderful scenes, but also a striking rumination on friendship.

Those scenes, the romantic ones and the friendship ones, allow Costner to act. After the first hour, he quickly becomes the uncompromising Wyatt Earp of legend. Only Going and Quaid provide an outlet for the emotion left behind. Except for when the film makes its big final change–the film goes through three major moods, which I guess could be used to mark act changes, but not really–and these moods are marked gradually. They’re the sum of what’s come before in the story… the last one is the best, because it allows Costner to visualize it for the audience, something the first one doesn’t provide.

Before I forget–a major aspect of Wyatt Earp is its condemnation of the West and its settlers. Not just the Indians, which is only barely suggested–the contrast between the scenes in civilized Missouri, the untouched West and the “settled” West are striking. It’s a lot like High Noon in its portrayal of (the majority) of the townspeople throughout.

The acting is uniformly excellent, though I suppose Quaid gives the best performance. I’d sort of forgotten he was going to be in it, since he doesn’t show up for an hour and twenty and then he has his first scene and I remembered what an exceptional performance he gives. Gene Hackman is the Earp family father for the first hour and he’s good (his performance might be what makes Costner’s as a twenty-two year-old more work). Like I said, Michael Madsen’s actually good for once and Linden Ashby’s great. JoBeth Williams, David Andrews and Lewis Smith all have some good scenes. Bill Pullman too. But I really could just list the majority of the cast, all of them have good scenes.

Kasdan’s direction is fantastic, both in the scenes between characters and the more epical, Western-type shots. Wyatt Earp is one of the last biopics I’ve seen–the genre seems to have petered out, but maybe I’ve just stopped seeing them because they all look terrible or something. Most are terrible, but there are some great films like this one. Still, even the good ones are often simple, and Wyatt Earp is exceptionally complex.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Lawrence Kasdan; written by Dan Gordon and Kasdan; director of photography, Owen Roizman; edited by Carol Littleton; music by James Newton Howard; production designer, Ida Random; produced by Jim Wilson, Kevin Costner and Kasdan; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Kevin Costner (Wyatt Earp), Dennis Quaid (Doc Holliday), Gene Hackman (Nicholas Earp), David Andrews (James Earp), Linden Ashby (Morgan Earp), Jeff Fahey (Ike Clanton), Joanna Going (Josie Marcus), Mark Harmon (Johnny Behan), Michael Madsen (Virgil Earp), Catherine O’Hara (Allie Earp), Bill Pullman (Ed Masterson), Isabella Rossellini (Big Nose Kate), Tom Sizemore (Bat Masterson), JoBeth Williams (Bessie Earp), Mare Winningham (Mattie Blaylock), James Gammon (Mr. Sutherland), Rex Linn (Frank McLaury), Randle Mell (John Clum), Annabeth Gish (Urilla Sutherland), Lewis Smith (Curly Bill Brocius), Betty Buckley (Virginia Earp), Alison Elliott (Lou Earp), Todd Allen (Sherm McMasters), Mackenzie Astin (Young Man on Boat), Jim Caviezel (Warren Earp), Karen Grassle (Mrs. Sutherland), John Dennis Johnston (Frank Stillwell), Téa Leoni (Sally), Martin Kove (Ed Ross), Kirk Fox (Pete Spence), Boots Southerland (Marshall White), Scotty Augare (Indian Charlie), Gabriel Folse (Billy Clanton), John Lawlor (Judge Spicer), Michael McGrady (John Shanssey), Mary Jo Niedzielski (Martha Earp) and Ian Bohen (Young Wyatt).


Fearless (1993, Peter Weir)

I try not to concern myself with the Academy Awards these days. I scoff at the thought of them actually awarding quality, but I’m still pleased when someone like Clint Eastwood wins and perplexed when something like Crash does too. So I’m a little surprised at my reaction to Rosie Perez in Fearless. I’m enraged she didn’t win back in 1994, absolutely enraged. Not only is she outstanding, amazing and… oh, what was the word I banned from The Stop Button for overuse. Oh, incredible. Not only is she all those things, Peter Weir gave her the direction for an Oscar-winning role. He shines a light on her and says, “Look how great she is.” And she didn’t win. And she disappeared into direct to video (at best) obscurity by 1997.

As for the rest of Fearless, it’s probably Jeff Bridges’ finest work. The film shifts from being all Bridges to being all about Bridges by the end and, since some of the shift gives time to Perez, it’s not bad, but the film never really establishes what’s so wrong with him. There’s a big revelation towards the end and it’s not particularly effective, nor does it make much sense. It’s a case of a T-intersection and the story took the one leading toward an affirming ending, which isn’t a bad thing, it’s just not as interesting in this particular story. Some of the problem comes from the lack of emotional backstory on Bridges and his family. Isabella Rossellini plays his wife and it’s impossible to imagine them together outside the film’s present action. Any successful scene with Rossellini, all the work comes from Bridges, Perez, or the music. Her performance is the film’s biggest handicap.

The music–I thought it was Gabriel Yared, but it turned out to be Maurice Jarre, which surprised me since Jarre tends to have a (classy) “cool” sound–makes the last act work. Peter Weir loves his symbolism, but in the last act, he really gets going and there are a couple times he hits the audience over the head so hard, they’re seeing stars. For the rest of the film, he does a great job. But, since it’s Weir… well, I got worried he might Owl Creek Bridge the film. I actually was worried about it from the beginning, something on the back of the laserdisc set off the warning light. I’ll ruin it for everyone–no, it’s not an Owl Creek Bridge. Instead, it’s a rewarding experience.

The writing’s excellent in spots, but Weir’s getting such great performances out of his cast, except Rossellini, it doesn’t really matter. Tom Hulce is great as a slimy lawyer and Debra Monk and Deirdre O’Connell are particularly good. A young and only okay Benicio Del Toro shows up for a bit too. Obviously it was before discovered his niche of the grumble-talk.

I’ve been waiting thirteen years to see Fearless. Back when it came out, I liked Jeff Bridges for some reason. Maybe because my mom likes him. I never got around to it on tape, then it came out pan and scan on DVD. I got the widescreen laserdisc on remainder back in 1999 or 2000 and just now got around to watching it. Even with Rossellini, it was worth the wait.

3.5/4★★★½

CREDITS

Directed by Peter Weir; written by Rafael Yglesias, based on his novel; director of photography, Allen Daviau; edited by William Anderson; music by Maurice Jarre; production designer, John Stoddart; produced by Paula Weinstein and Mark Rosenberg; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Jeff Bridges (Max Klein), Isabella Rossellini (Laura Klein), Spencer Vrooman (Jonah Klein), Rosie Perez (Carla Rodrigo), Tom Hulce (Brillstein) and John Turturro (Dr. Bill Perlman).


White Nights (1985, Taylor Hackford)

It’s the perfect time for the White Nights post I’ve been slacking on.

Why have I been slacking? A combination of things. First and foremost, White Nights is a Columbia Picture. Sony releases Columbia Pictures on DVD and has not released White Nights in the US yet. If and when they do, those twits will probably release it pan and scan. We watched the lovely, anamorphic widescreen Japanese release. Even has Taylor Hackford commentary. Two, I’ve seen White Nights before and I don’t know how much I have to say about it. Three, maybe I’d have more to say or something different to say, if I didn’t watch the movie thinking how great an actor Gregory Hines really was, how unappreciated he was in the 1980s (how many good roles did he have in theatrical releases–I’ve actually seen Dead Air–seven or eight, depends on if you count History of the World or Eve of Destruction). Gregory Hines came and went and he shouldn’t have. The fact he’s dead without any acting recognition upset me throughout the film. Just now, I read he dropped out of 48 HRS. for The Cotton Club. So now I’m even more upset.

No one makes movies like White Nights anymore. Hollywood does not produce adult dramas not intended to be Oscar-nominees. It just doesn’t happen. Miramax has ruined adult cinema (and Adam Sandler and Mike Myers have ruined adult comedy).

White Nights is–I suppose–not entirely ludicrous. I have no idea what would have happened if Baryshnikov ended up in the Soviet Union somehow. So, I can accept it. The rest of the story is simple and paced over a couple weeks. The KGB sets Baryshnikov up with Hines, a tap-dancing American defector (over Vietnam), hoping to get world recognition for getting their defector back home. Getting him to give up the world of Western indulgences. Eventually, Baryshnikov escapes again. The end. I’m sure almost everyone’s seen this movie on late night TV (though not in beautiful anamorphic widescreen).

There’s Phil Collins music at some point but it’s that somehow okay Phil Collins 1980s music. Makes for good sequences. That Phil Collins. Not Phil Collins-Monkey Love Song Phil Collins. And it fits because Hackford produces an excellent package. His films are always well-produced. Against All Odds is not, you know, a good film, but it’s well-produced. In the context of the 1980s, I would have called Hackford mediocre. Now, I would have to call him good… comparably.

Nights isn’t a musical, but there’s a lot of dancing and it’s impossible not be awe of the two dancers. No offense to Hines (or tap dancing), but Baryshnikov is the more stunning. What the guy can do is amazing. I can’t do any of it. And neither can you, because you’d be doing it right now instead of wasting your time reading about some movie. My interest in the dancing, besides general appreciation, wanes. It’s not a musical, there’s a story coming before these sequences and they seem long when they’re interrupting that story. Some are great and Hackford does a good job with them. But the dancing makes White Nights good. It’s the peculiar nature of the story and of the actors.

For the majority of the film, Hines doesn’t like Baryshnikov and neither does the audience (though my fiancée seems to like his tush a lot). Baryshnikov is a selfish prig and it takes a while to warm to him. The differences between the Soviet Union and the United States and freedoms do come up, but those difference’s aren’t the character’s motivation. He’s just a selfish prig. There’s no ideology. And that lack makes him likable in the end. In other words, for four-fifths of the movie, it’s all about Hines. And he’s great. He turns an amazing performance, even when he’s got to be drunk and upset. The bad guy, of course, is the KGB guy. But, it’s not so simple because the KGB guy is a selfish prig too and turns out not to be inhuman. He’s just doing his job and he wants as good of a job as possible. And Helen Mirren’s in it and she’s great. So’s Geraldine Page. In fact, only Isabella Rossellini turns in a blah performance. But it’s Isabella Rossellini and she’s always blah, isn’t she?

So, White Nights is good. It’s an unexpected good. It does have a completely out of place Oscar-winning song, though. Lionel Richie sings what seems to be a song about friendship and I really wish there was a scene where Baryshnikov told Hines, “Believe in who you are, you are a shining star.” It’s not even in the movie, it plays over the end credits. How can a song get “Best Song” if it’s not in the movie? At least the songs in Irwin Allen’s disaster movies were in the movie a little….

White Nights reminds me–not too long ago even–most movies were okay. Most I’d see anyway. They were okay. Sticking with the Hackford oeuvre, Against All Odds isn’t any good, it really isn’t. But it’s not a crime against the human intellect. It’s not a Chris Klein movie or something. The 1980s constantly gets shit from people who think Britney Spears can sing or Hayden Christiansen can act. Sure, a lot of the films were incredibly derivative. Oh, you know, like bullet-time. White Nights is a reasonable example of that decade’s film output and it’s a good sign. It’s a sign the decade shouldn’t be ignored just because of John Hughes and Tony Scott.

2.5/4★★½

CREDITS

Directed by Taylor Hackford; screenplay by James Goldman and Eric Hughes, from a story by Goldman; director of photography, David Watkin; edited by Fredric Steinkamp and William Steinkamp; music by Michel Colombier; produced by Hackford and William S. Gilmore; released by Columbia Pictures.

Starring Mikhail Baryshnikov (Nikolai Rodchenko), Gregory Hines (Raymond Greenwood), Jerzy Skolimowski (Colonel Chaiko), Helen Mirren (Galina Ivanova), Geraldine Page (Anne Wyatt), Isabella Rossellini (Darya Greenwood), John Glover (Wynn Scott), Stefan Gryff (Captain Kirigin), William Hootkins (Chuck Malarek) and Shane Rimmer (Ambassador Smith).


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