The Review: If you’ve never seen a Jacques Audiard film before, then you should come to this with the right expectations: that what you’re going to get will be a little unconventional, to say the least. Take his last three films: Read My Lips, involving the pairing off of an almost deaf woman with an ex-convict, or The Beat My Heart Skipped, the story of a shady real estate broker with aspirations to be a pianist. Audiard’s last film, A Prophet, was less concerned with romantic aspirations but still took a hard-boiled prison drama and wove supernatural elements inextricably within it. So if you’re coming to Rust and Bone completely cold, you should be aware that Audiard’s films are anything but simple.
It will be no surprise in that context that Rust And Bone sees a return to romance, but also that it’s not your average boy meets girl. In this case the boy is a big hulk of a man, Ali (Matthias Schoenaerts) who’s trying to find the means to raise the young son he’s been saddled with looking after, but it’s difficult when responsibility doesn’t come easy to him. Through one of his many attempts at respectable work as a nightclub bouncer, he has a chance encounter with Stephanie (Marion Cotillard), whose hotheadedness gets her in trouble at the club before Ali intervenes. A begrudging act of kindness on her part later becomes more crucial when she suffers an unfortunate and potentially devastating accident; through that, this odd couple start to become friends, but form a complex relationship which both of them struggle to truly come to terms with.
Audiard is no stranger to powerful male figures in his films (the last three have featured Vincent Cassel, Romain Duris and Tahar Rahim, for example), and Matthias Schoenaerts seems to have been hewn almost from solid granite, such is his imposing physical presence. But the real strength comes from the performance of Marion Cotillard, now no stranger to English speaking audiences for her work with the likes of Michael Mann and Christopher Nolan. Most reviews are giving away the nature of what happens to her character, and given that she’s a killer whale trainer it’s maybe not hard to surmise, but I’ll leave that for you to find out on screen if by some miracle you don’t already know; either way, the pain of self-discovery is powerfully captured by Cotillard, but that’s only the start of an excellent performance that sees her take a surprising, but always believable, journey through that pain and towards some form of a normal life.
It’s fair to say that Audiard’s film isn’t necessarily concerned primarily with the difficulties of dealing with disability. There’s an awful lot more going on here, from Ali’s street fighting career to his stewardship of his son to the nature of his relationship with Stephanie to the issues of socialism and family brought up by some of the divisions between management and employees where Ali also works. With so much happening, not every plot line gets the time it needs (Ali’s son suffering most from this) and also not every plot feels that it’s earned its time in the mix. Whenever Cotillard’s on screen, Rust And Bone captures and keeps your attention, but when she’s not, it has to work a little harder, and while it’s not a constantly captivating film when it’s at its best, it soars. But it’s fascinating to see what can be done with modern special effects, no longer purely the domain simply of big Hollywood productions, and for the most part Audiard has produced another compelling story of human relationships with a twist to stand shoulder to shoulder with his earlier works.
Why see it at the cinema: Audiard knows how to use the frame, and there’s at least a couple of moments that pack a much bigger punch for being seen in a cinema for their emotional wallop.
The Score: 8/10
The Review: You might remember the days when Woody Allen made universally acclaimed films. Sadly, in the eyes of most, the last time that happened consistently was probably the Eighties, and since 1989’s Crimes And Misdemeanours it’s been a succession of moderate successes and critical flops. But nostalgia is a powerful feeling, and every time a new film appears with Woody’s name on, you can feel everyone lining up, ready to give it a kicking but most actually hoping that somehow the easy charm and clever dialogue of his earlier hits could still be recaptured. If only he could travel back in time to understand what made his earlier films so successful…
Maybe it’s that constant nostalgic reflection, or maybe it’s the inspiration of the latest city to be his muse after his mixed London years, but the inspiration for Midnight In Paris of that nostalgic element seems to have revitalised Woody, and this is probably his best film since the Eighties. It’s easy to claim that there’s a formula to a good Woody Allen film, but actually what makes this one so refreshing is his willingness to stick to the formula, albeit with a few subtle variations. A lot of his best work deals with the metaphysical and is rooted in high concept, from Zelig to The Purple Rose Of Cairo and Deconstructing Harry, to name just a few, and Midnight In Paris gets its gimmick from a completely different side to Paris that Owen Wilson’s Gil discovers after midnight.
What Woody’s never had a problem doing is assembling a great cast, and this is no exception. One of those subtle variations on the theme is the Woody avatar that the central character normally represents (if it’s not Woody himself of course), and Owen Wilson is at his extremely likeable best as the bemused and frustrated writer, but it’s a role that Wilson does bring different aspects to, not least a wide-eyed astonishment at the events unfolding. The likes of Michael Sheen and Rachel McAdams offer solid support, but the other stand out is Marion Cotillard as Wilson’s muse, who seems to attract men like flies and has most of them around her little finger. There’s also plenty of background roles with actors having huge amounts of fun, and Alison Pill and Adrien Brody especially light up the screen in their brief turns.
The irony, of course, is that a film that’s so obsessed with nostalgia manages to successfully recapture the magic of Woody Allen’s days gone by. Midnight In Paris is a light soufflé of a film and would probably blow away in a strong wind, but it’s a delight from start to finish and Allen gets the most out his slender concept. Key to the film’s success are Allen’s early Parisian navel-gazing, which means that once the plot kicks in, the pace fairly rattles along, that the cast make the most of their varied roles and that it’s all wrapped up satisfactorily at the end of the reasonable running time. For any Woody fans, they’ll be thrilled that their hero has managed to find himself once again; for the more general film fan, it’s a great concept executed in a thoroughly entertaining way, and let’s just hope it doesn’t take Mr Allen another twenty years to hit these heights again.
Why see it at the cinema: Paris hasn’t looked this good since Ratatouille, and Woody’s bringing the chuckles back so it’ll be a good night out with the middle classes.
The Score: 9/10
The Review: Ensemble comedy dramas have been around since almost the dawn of film itself, but there’s one thing that they’ve all had to live in the shadow of for the last fifteen years, and it’s something that grew on the small screen rather than the big one. I refer, of course, to the comedy behemoth that was Friends, which with its ten years of episodic set-ups and lead characters that, on their own, were arch stereotypes but collectively formed a clique that most of the English speaking world seemed to fall in love with. During that ten years, though, Friends ran through almost every possible scenario that six friends could get up to. South Park once had an entire episode revolving around the fact that The Simpsons had mined every possible plotline and left nothing new for its competitors to explore, and at face value this is the equivalent of the two episodes in Friends where everyone went on a beach holiday.
So the challenge for director Guillaume Camet is what he can bring to the genre that’s fresh or original. Certainly the opening sequence is a little more hedonistic than any of the Friends was ever allowed to be, and the opening credits play out over a fantastic tracking shot with a cinematic pay-off. From there the stakes are raised a little, as a hospital visit requires some tough decisions to be made; two weeks’ holiday or four, for example? It’s less a patient in a bed and more the elephant in the room as the absence of one of the group due to the opening accident casts a shadow over events, but not one that detains the friends for too long. The other major factor casting an omnipresent shadow is a conversation at dinner between Max (François Cluzet) and Vincent (Benoît Magimel), when Vincent struggles to express his more unusual feelings for Max and typically tries to express them before he’s resolved them himself. As it’s Max whose hosting their summer get-together, tensions are bound to run high.
For the majority of the rest of that running time, though, it does become indistinguishable from a French friends. Effectively a series of comic and dramatic vignettes, the passing of each night and day signals a new escapade that the varied characters end up in, each one pretty much defined by a single personality characteristic to help keep them separate. If that sounds a lot like a certain sitcom, then there’s another reason for mentioning it – Little White Lies is 154 minutes long, or the exact equivalent of watching seven episodes of Friends back to back without commercials. You’d expect a lot to be packed into that running time and you’d be right, but the consequence is that none of the stories moves along at much of a pace, and only Marion Cotillard as the pot-smoking bisexual gets called on to do much in the way of proper acting during the majority of the running time. (And yes, the reaction of most of the male characters to the revelation of her sapphic leanings is very reminiscent of one Joey Tribbiani.) Cluzet probably has the most fun of the group, getting to work through his anger management issues and tossing out pithy asides.
But there is more depth here than a TV sitcom, and in the final half hour set-ups pay off and elephants in rooms make themselves resolutely heard. So this holiday is worth taking for the eventual emotional journeys of the characters, but it’s also worth taking because it’s quite a lot of fun for the most part. While certainly a little overlong, the length doesn’t detract too much and the story arcs do all (eventually) pay off. Camet always keeps things visually interesting and gets the most out of his characters, it’s all generally undemanding and the best bet is to sit back, relax and enjoy the scenery. You might not want to spend ten years in their company, but these friends are well worth two and a half hours of your time.
Why see it at the cinema: Plenty of gorgeous French scenery, a fair few decent laughs and you might just need one of those literal mouchoirs (handkerchiefs) by the end. What more could you want?
The Score: 8/10
For my standard review of Inception, with all the normal bells and whistles, see here. However, I followed this up with a visit to the IMAX; some thoughts on that viewing and then some further thoughts on the movie itself, after the jump. There are no big spoilers here but I would still recommend seeing the movie before you read too much further.
Why see it on IMAX: There are pros and cons, actually. The cons are all in the picture; there are a few points when the picture is a little muddy or out of focus, and blown up to gigantic proportions this looks so much worse. The picture also appears to have been cropped slightly; while not filling the whole screen, so it’s not down to the 1.44:1 IMAX ratio, it’s not the 2.35:1 ratio you’ll get in most other cinemas.
The pros are in the sound; Hans Zimmer’s amazing score comes over in a much clearer way and captured me in ways that it didn’t manage in a normal cinema. In addition, the 40 speaker system of the IMAX packs plenty of bass, and Inception is not short of ways to exploit it.
I’ve now seen four films on the IMAX format (The Dark Knight, Avatar and Journey to Mecca being the other three). Of the four, this has the worst picture but the best sound. So your choice to see it will depend entirely on your priorities.
The Review: I reckon, if hard pushed, we could all remember a particular dream we’d had at some point in our lives. Our brains, for some as yet unknown reason, go off on flights of fancy while we’re asleep, and some we can remember as clearly as events that have happened to us. When I was just a child, I had a dream that Tim Brooke-Taylor, ostensibly one of the gentlest men in show business, beat me up in my back garden. I once dreamed for two weeks solid, and in every dream everyone in that dream had a dog with them. I once stood on the runway of an airport and watched as a 747 crashed and exploded at the other end. And I once had a dream that I was in a purple room with no doors or windows, and that I was hungry.
What our subconscious is doing, rather than giving us Daliesque landscapes to run about in with four headed giraffes and unlimited naked orgies (although if you are dreaming that, well done and can I come and live in your head?), is giving us variants on the world we know, grounded in reality but extrapolated further. What Christopher Nolan has seen is the potential to play around in your head, but assuming your head is the extrapolated reality dream world, and not the Dali-giraffe-orgy one. So if you’ve heard that this is a David Lynch-like study of what the potential of dreams are, then you’ve heard wrong. Dreams are merely the canvas for what Nolan is attempting to construct.
I can only assume that he reads and studies Heath Robinson and M.C. Escher during the day, then eats a fair bit of cheese before bedtime, because what he has constructed is an intricate and complex adventure within that space. Into that world, he’s deposited one of the finest rosters of actors since The Dark Knight (and some Nolan regulars, including Cillian Murphy, Ken Watanabe and Michael Caine get varying length turns here), but although most of them, especially the lesser known such as Tom Hardy, shine with what they’re given, the movie is anchored around Leonardo DiCaprio. Aged 35 and finally starting to show it, this and Shutter Island have seen his acting achieve a new level of nuance recently and he’s comfortably able to take the weight of the emotional hooks the movie hangs on him.
There are two key women in DiCaprio’s Dom Cobb’s life, Ariadne (Ellen Page) and Mal (Marion Cotillard), and it’s his interactions with the two that drive the plot forward. And here’s where any attempts to explain said plot are likely to come off as completely futile, even if they weren’t likely to spoil things. This is a global movie, filmed in seven countries on four continents, and once it’s established the basic rules in the first fifteen minutes, it starts running and almost never stops. It’s a heist movie, but that’s about all you get to ground you; then the rules are gradually layered on over the next hour or so until we’re in a world completely of Nolan’s construction, at which point he launches the key heist.
A key trope of horror movies, occasionally edging into science fiction, is that of the dream within the dream. Wake up and you then realise you’re still dreaming. What Nolan has done is take this a stage further; debates rage about the merits of 3D when it comes to the visual dimensions, but what Inception does is take the dimensions through the plot, and specifically through the heist that forms the last hour or more of the movie. So you get Bond movie, sci-fi action, conventional action movie and even psychological thriller, with all of them running at the same time but at different rates, and events in the levels filtering up and down. It’s a five dimensional action movie, done for the most part without the ridiculous over-cranking of a Michael Bay, and in that sense it’s never less than brilliant.
But there are concepts and ideas running through this that, once your pulse has steadied from the action beats, will try to engage your mind. The emotions of the movie are all wrapped up in that dimension – there is a huge depth of emotion here, but in the same way as the secrets that the character’s minds lock away, it’s not immediately accessible and you will be required to fully open yourself up to the experience to get the most from it. Thankfully, the quality of the direction, acting, editing and script will allow you to do that if you’re willing. And just to show he’s not tired of it, having done a whole movie by giving us layered variations on what we’ve seen before, he takes another route. Not the deliberate cliff-hangers of his Batman movies, or the twisty-turniness of Memento or The Prestige, here we get the debate ending. A simple choice from the last shot which will define you and what you want to take from the movie, and is bound to generate healthy pub debate for as long as Inception is watched, whether that be ten minutes or fifty years.
Why see it at the cinema: This is bold, thought-provoking cinema at its action-oriented best, and it was intended to be seen in the cinema. It won’t be everyone’s cup of tea, but the reaction of your fellow cinema-goers to the final shot is worth the price of admission alone.
The Score: 10/10