Sunday, May 31, 2015


Written by David Nicholls

Directed by Thomas Vinterberg

Where & When: E Street Cinema, Washington D.C.  May 18, 2015  7:45PM

I have never read the classic novel "Far From The Madding Crowd" by Thomas Hardy but I'm sure it's no where near as lifeless and uninspired as this latest film adaptation. The director Thomas Vinterberg began his career as a co-founder of Dogme 95 (along with the notorious, Lars von Trier), a radical Danish movement that brought attention to getting back to the basics of story-telling by not using modern visual effects. Since his terrific Dogme debut, "Festen (The Celebration)" (which won a well-deserved jury prize at the 1998 Cannes festival), Vinterberg has pretty much abandoned this adventurous concept and has settled into more conventional film making. His last film was the understated but powerful "Jagten (The Hunt)" which earned the director a 2012 Oscar nomination for Best Foreign Language Film.  "Far" has a much larger budget and delivers a grand, sweeping style but lacks a more imaginative approach in telling this enduring love story.

The film looks ravishing thanks to cinematographer, Charlotte Bruus Christensen, production designer, Kave Quinn and the exquisite costumes by Janet Patterson. We also have on hand strong performances by the quite talented, Carey Mulligan taking on the fiercely independent, Bathsheba Everdene and the Belgium hunk, Matthias Schoenaerts as one of her suitors along with a fine supporting cast. But none of these wonderful elements come together to create the passionate romantic epic that was clearly intended. The result is more tepid at best with the colorless script by David Nicholls leaves the film feeling truncated and rushed.

Set in Victorian England, Bathsheba has a strong desire to remain unmarried, particularly strange for a young woman of this era. She is quite content working on her aunt's modest farm but catches the eye of Gabriel Oak (Schoenaerts), a handsome shepherd. They become friendly and soon Gabriel asks her to become his bride. Despite her hasty rejection, this decision seems to quietly inflame his desire even more for this odd beauty.

Their lives take an unexpected turn as Gabriel loses his entire herd in a tragic accident, forcing him to sell what little he has left and leave in search of work. Bathsheba inherits an uncle's farm in a nearby village and becomes quite wealthy. Circumstances bring these two together once again but now Gabriel is hired to work for Bathsheba.

Bathsheba inadvertently attracts the attention of her neighbor, William Boldwood (Michael Sheen), an affluent bachelor after playfully sending him a valentine. Taking this quite seriously, the lonely Boldwood's heart is awakened after years of dormancy.  He asks for her hand in marriage, which Bathsheba regrettably declines, but he's patient and willing to wait for her to come around.

Another admirer enters Bathsheba's orbit, a charming young sergeant named Frank Troy (Tom Sturridge). With an act of seduction involving his sword, Bathsheba surprisingly falls under his spell and for the first time feels actual yearning. Fearful of losing the solider, she agrees to marry Frank. After the glow of matrimony dims, Bathsheba is soon introduced to the true man and with that, a dark secret surfaces.

As we witness Bathsheba's efforts to maneuver through as a steadfast woman, not wanting to lose herself in a decidedly man's world, we are shown how much our society has evolved and how much has stubbornly remained the same. Throughout all of Bathsheba's lapse of judgement, difficult adversity and tragic misfortune, Gabriel remained by her side, offering advice (whether solicited or not), guidance and friendship. She is the last to know what becomes obvious, that what you might be searching for has been with you all the time.

"Far From The Madding Crowd" is far from a bad film. It just doesn't feel necessary at least in the way it's been assembled. The film hits all of major points of the novel but it's cinematic structure is strictly by-the-numbers. With a lead character who was all about taking risks and facing challenges, it's surprising so little was taken here.

Monday, May 25, 2015


The 68th annual Cannes Film Festival came to a close with the selection of "Dheepan", the story of Sri Lankan refugees trying to make a new life in Paris, for the Palme d'Or . This understated film, directed by French filmmaker Jacques Audiard ("A Prophet", "Rust and Bone"), was a surprise winner for this top film honor. The highly unconventional Holocaust drama "Son of Saul" by Hungarian director, Laszlo Nemes, took the Grand Prix or runner-up prize.

Another surprise was for Best Actress as there was a tie. Emmanuelle Bercot, who directed the opening-night film, "La Tete Haute (Standing Tall)", took home the acting honor for her deeply emotional role in "Mon Roi". Rooney Mara shared the prize for her impressive work in Todd Haynes' "Carol" which she plays a young lesbian shopgirl opposite Cate Blanchett's curious housewife.

Here is a partial list of winners from this year's Cannes Film Festival:

Palme d'Or: "Dheepan"

Grand Prix: "Saul fia (Son of Saul)"

Best Director: Hou Hsiao-Hsien, "The Assassin"

Best Screenplay: Michel Franco, "Chronic"

Best Actor: Vincent Lindon, "The Measure of a Man"

Best Actress: (Tie) Rooney Mara, "Carol" and Emmanuelle Bercot, "Mon Roi"

Camera d'Or (Best First Feature): "La Tierra y la Sombre"

Palme d'Or (Short Film): "Waves ’98"

Jury Prize: "The Lobster"

Un Certain Regard Prize: "Hrútar (Rams)"

Un Certain Regard Director: Kiyoshi Kurosawa, "Journey to the Shore"

Un Certain Regard Jury prize: "Zvizdan (The High Sun)"

Sunday, May 17, 2015


Written & Directed by Olivier Assayas

Where & When: Sundance Sunset Cinemas, West Hollywood, CA.  April 25, 2015  1:40PM

"Clouds of Sils Maria" takes a look at a mature actress who has enjoyed a fruitful and acclaimed career on stage and screen. Now asked to join in a remake that made her famous, not in the role of the young girl she once played but of the damaged older character. The very thought brings out all of her fears and insecurities in an industry that holds aging in contempt, particularly for women. It may sound like another innocuous tale of Hollywood elitism but the latest by French filmmaker Olivier Assayas offers something far more intricate, dreamy and even mysterious. The director's films, especially his female-centric cult classics "Irma Vep" and "Demonlover", have been characterized as working within conventional themes before venturing towards a strange and unexpected course. "Clouds" certainly follows that path and while not entirely successful. it is well worth exploring.

It should be no surprise that Juliette Binoche, always one of the more compelling film performers working today, is absolutely riveting in the part of the actress. What is more of an eye-opener is Kristen Stewart as the devoted personal assistant. Never been much of a fan as I feel the young actress comes across far too sullen and detached on screen to be particularly engaging. The overwhelming fame she achieved from the "Twilight" series didn't help, seeming to cause her to withdraw even further. Although still not fully sold, I'll freely admit this is one of Ms Stewart's finest performances. She even earned the César for Best Supporting Actress for her work here, an impressive first for a non-French speaking actor.

An actress of international renown, Marina Enders (Binoche), travels by train to accept a career achievement award for Wilhelm Melchior, a popular Swiss playwright and filmmaker who gave the first major part to her in one of his early works, "Maloja Snake". In the middle of a nasty divorce, Marina would completely unravel without the sturdy assistance of Valentine (Stewart), who keeps her life organized, offers sound advice and holds her up during difficult situations. That certainly is required during this trip as she has the difficult task of informing Marina that her dear friend has passed away.

Distraught and unsure of whether to continue on to Zurich, Valentine convinces Marina to follow through with accepting the prize. While at the ceremony, the assistant talks her boss in to meeting with the in-demand director who wants her to star in a new stage production of "Maloja Snake". Having previously turned down the request to play the tragic role of the middle-aged woman who ultimately ends her life, the actress becomes more open but still reluctant to commit after some discussion.

Some time later at Melchior's chalet in the tranquil Swiss alps, Marina begins rehearsing for the play. With only Valentine by her side to help run her lines. Marina becomes increasingly more agitated as she digs further in to the role. Lost and unmotivated, she becomes wistful of her time as the ingenue. As for the acting rival that will be taking over her previous part, Marina is disturbed to find that Jo-Ann Ellis (Chloë Grace Moretz) is a troubled but talented young starlet with a wild lifestyle that helps make the paparazzi very rich. When they finally meet, Marina is surprised to find a polished and thoughtful actress before her, filled with gushing compliments though still far from tabloid-free.

The most fascinating feature of the script by Mr. Assayas is the working relationship between Marina and Valentine. Far from simple and straightforward, it may not be strange for two people who spend so much time together to be close but boundaries become blurred, positions of power shift and words spoken to each other appear to offer alternative meaning. This is particularly the case as Marina and Valentine run through lines of the play, the dark and complex conversation between the characters appear to bleed through in to their own elusive connection.

The odd plot twist in the final act throws "Clouds of Sils Maria" out of whack and doesn't fully recover. Despite this brief set back, the film remains just as graceful and majestic as the airy clouds we see traveling through those mountains in Switzerland. The additional treat of watching these wonderful actresses display their great talent makes this truly a magical experience.

Saturday, May 2, 2015


The French Riviera will soon once again be in the spotlight as the 68th Annual Cannes Film Festival will take place on May 13th to 24th. One of the most beautiful faces to ever grace the silver screen, Ingrid Bergman has been selected to represent this year's Cannes with her image featured on the poster. Her daughter, actress Isabella Rossellini was named president of Un Certain Regard which is a section of the festival that celebrates new films that are considered "original and different"

The prestigious international event has recently revealed their selections to be screened and "La Tête haute (Standing Tall)" will open the festival. This is notable as the director Emmanuelle Bercot will only be the second female to have their film open the fest (Diane Kurys with "Un homme amoureux (A Man In Love)" in 1987 was the first). Catherine Deneuve and Benoît Magimel star in this story of a troubled boy (Rod Paradot) growing up in a tough neighborhood with a social worker and judge trying to help him. The closing night film will be "La Glace et le ciel (Ice and The Sky)". This documentary by Luc Jacquet (who made the Oscar-winning doc, "March of The Penquins") takes a look at Claude Lorius, one of the first scientists to express concern about global warming back in 1965.

American directors, Joel and Ethan Cohen will head this year's jury and their fellow jurors are equally impressive; Rossy de Palma, the Spanish actress (best known for her work with Pedro Almodovar), Jake Gyllenhaal, American actor, French star and director Sophie Marceau, Mali-born singer-songwriter Rokia Traoré, British actress Sienna Miller, French-Canadian filmmaker Xavier Dolan (who tied the Jury Prize last year with Jean-Luc Godard for "Mommy") and Mexican director Guillermo del Toro.

There are a total of thirty-eight films that will be competing for prizes which includes the long-awaited feature comeback by Todd Haynes with "Carol" starring Cate Blanchett, a new version of "Macbeth" featuring Michael Fassbender and Marion Cotillard, a previous Cannes winner for "Dogtooth", Yorgos Lanthimos with his first English-language film, "The Lobster" which stars Colin Farrell and Rachel Weisz, the latest from Gus Van Sant, "Sea of Trees" and "Youth", the second English-language film from Italian filmmaker, Paolo Sorrentino who won a Best Foriegn-Language Film Oscar for "The Great Beauty" last year.

Some films that are screening out of competition are the rebooted "Mad Max: Fury Road", the annual Woody Allen pic, "Irrational Man" the Amy Winehouse doc, "Amy" and "Love", a sexual melodrama involving a boy, a girl and another girl by controversial director, Gaspar Noé.