By Robin E. Simmons
A big hit at this year’s Palm Springs International Film Festival, this sly, intelligent and compelling drama from director Olivier Assayas is powered by three terrific performances by Juliette Binoche (from whom the idea for this movies originated), Kristen Stewart and Chloë Grace Moretz.
Binoche is Maria Enders, a famous actress at the peak of her worldwide fame when she is asked to perform in the revival of a play that catapulted her to fame twenty years ago. Back when she first performed the play, her character was Sigrid, a charismatic young woman who drives her boss Helena to suicide. Now, decades later, she is playing the older Helena. Enders heads to Sils Maria, a remote place in the Alps, with her assistant, played by Stewart. But this time around, the role of Sigrid (Moretz) is played by a scandalous and trouble-plagued Hollywood starlet.
I loved the way the roles are reversed in a way that also reflects the lives of the two main characters: clearly, the younger Sigrid is a disturbing incarnation of the older Maria! What a wonderful conceit.
This enigmatic tale works on many levels. It’s about ageing, mortality, honesty, fame, show biz and love. Yes, it’s top-loaded with irony. And so it is with life itself – of you’re paying attention. But in the end, it’s the naturalistic performances that galvanize this singular drama.
I was never a fan of Kristen Stewart; never saw any acting skills on display. But here, wow, she is utterly astonishing. (Kristen, please forgive me for the sometimes harsh words I had for you regarding your film roles.)
Don’t miss this fascinating film that’s intentionally ambiguous in the best way. Pick of the week. Now playing at Cinemas Palme d’Or.
AVENGERS: AGE OF ULTRON
Nothing I write here can in any way alter this movie juggernaut that, in it’s opening week, is already racking up record box office bucks allover the world! However, incredible visceral action with a few moments of witty repartee do not always satisfy if there’s not an equally engaging story. Narrative is everything in movies. Just overloading the already crowded cast with some new characters both friends and foes, does not make this enterprise more entertaining or engaging. It’s like jamming a wad of cotton candy into your mouth. Sweet while it lasts but there’s no lingering satisfaction.
In this sequel, Tony Stark jumpstarts a forgotten peacekeeping program, but naturally, things go awry and some of our biggest comic book heroes (Iron Man, Captain America, Thor, The Incredible Hulk, Black Widow and Hawkeye) are tested to the limits as they battle to save the planet from evil Ultron.
Yes, I suppose it’s worth seeing the chaos of heartless robots running amuck in IMAX 3D if that’s your thing — as long as you remember that bigger is not always better. Now playing.
NEW FOR THE HOME THEATER:
“Brave the deep, find the gold, trust no one,” says the accurate tag line on some of the posters. This suspenseful, claustrophobic, well-crafted thriller directed by Kevin Macdonald, stars Jude Law as Royal Navy Captain Robinson who puts together a rag-tag, misfit crew of half English/half Russian marine specialists to steal a golden hoard on a sunken WW II era Nazi U-boat at the bottom of the Black Sea. But alas, the greedy salvage company that just let Robinson go has already marked the treasure and now it’s tied up in complicated red tape. To pull off the heist, Robinson must pilot a derelict sub to the site without being detected by the Russian naval fleet above and before desperation, greed and simmering tensions on the sub explode. Jude Law is terrific — certainly among his better performances — as the captain of a crew fighting for their own survival.
Not a great movie, but a solid adventure of desperate men surrounded on all sides by what one crewmember describes as “dark, cold death.”
British director McDonald (THE LAST KING OF SCOTLAND and STATE OF PLAY) excels at stories about men in impossible situations. Recommended. Universal/Focus. Blu-ray.
Turkish filmmaker Nuri Blige Ceylan won the 2014 Palme d’Or at Cannes for this talky, Chekhovian drama. The story revolves around Aydin, an aging, rich, blinkered, hotel owner, his disenchanted younger wife and his recently divorced sister who spend the winter in their hotel in beautiful Anatolia.
There’s lots of arguing with family and neighbors, and everyone seems to find ways to locate and pointedly jab at the other’s vulnerability over a running time of three hours. In spite of a scene I consider cruelty to horses, I liked this film that isolates the characters deep dissatisfaction with life in spite of their refined sensibilities, prestige and wealth. I was provoked by the stark reminder of what does not bring happiness to the human condition.
The flow of remarkable images are embedded with an intimate but cold luxury; Aiden’s wife speaks the line that underscores the theme when she says to her husband: “In order not to suffer, you prefer to fool yourself.” Yes. That’s what we humans do to cope. Recommended. Kino/Adopt. Blu-ray.