Rabbit Hole – Film Review

RabbitHole

Rabbit Hole
Directed by John Cameron Mitchell
Review by Thomas W. Campbell

On November 16, 2010 I did a Q and A with David Lindsay-Abaire, Nicole Kidman, John Cameron Mitchell, and Aaron Eckhart following the NBR screening of Rabbit Hole. It was a treat to have producers, actors, the director and the writer in the same room. Kidman’s commitment to the film was evident as she discussed her creative relationship with the process of putting together the film and the great degree of freedom granted to Lindsay-Abaire in adapting his own play to the screen.

Link to original NBR review

Rabbit Hole is a loving adaptation of David Lindsay-Abaire’s 2006 Pulitzer Prize winning play of the same name. Although the film, based on it’s theme, will probably not become an adored holiday classic the journey from play to screen has been unusual in it’s fidelity to the original source and quite successful in terms of storytelling and performance. One of the first and most unusual aspects of the project is that the playwright was hired to adapt his original work, without a co-writer, to the screen. Producer Nicole Kidman and director John Cameron Mitchell, both with experience in theater, felt so strongly about the play that they were comfortable handing the screenplay to Abaire. The result is a film that reflects the original work–a young couple lose their son in an accident that remains mysterious to the viewers and to themselves–but is adapted in ways that subtly and effectively fit the needs of cinema.
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The Runaways – Film Review

TheRunaways

The Runaways
Directed by Floria Sigismondi
Review by Thomas W. Campbell

On March 17, 2010 I did a Q and A with director Floria Sigismondi, Kristen Stewart and Dakota Fanning following the NBR screening of The Runaways. Stewart and Fanning were very young that day, thrilled to be back together for the publicity tour and making me feel like the professor keeping one eye on the adult while hoping to keep the kids out of trouble. It was fun and a bit unpredictable, like the movie itself.

Link to original NBR review|

The Runaways, based on the short eventful career of one of rock’s first all-girl bands, captures the time and place of Southern California, mid-to-late 1970’s, with energy and style. The Runaways were formed in 1975, breaking the mold of musical groups until that time, challenging the male-dominated rock scene. Put together by a musician-manager-provocateur named Kim Fowley (played with crazed bravado by Michael Shannon), the band was embodied by 15-year-old beauty Cherie Curie (Dakota Fanning) and slightly older leather-tough Joan Jett (Kristen Stewart). It was a time when kids were all forming bands, but there were few if any role models for a young girl who wanted to rock–and no all-girl bands at all. The Runaways is based in part on the book “Neon Angel: the Cherie Currie Story” by Cherie Currie and is directed by Floria Sigismondi, an artist and photographer who has made memorable music videos with David Bowie, The White Stripes, Sheryl Crow, and others. Sigismondi has created an exceptional film that is part biography, part musical history, and best of all a gritty but fun coming-of age-story about a group of girls who want to do what others feel they are incapable of–be rock-and-roll stars.

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Restless – Film Review

Restless

Restless
Directed by Gus Van Sant
Review by Thomas W. Campbell

On September 14, 2011 I did a Q and A with Gus Van Sant following the NBR screening of his film Restless. Van Sant is a thoughtful and caring man who enjoys discussing film and the creative process as much as anyone I have met. He was particularly interested in praising his young actors for their daring and intuitive approaches to their work.

Link to original NBR review

Restless, Gus Van Sant’s new film, opens with a series of shots revealing a somewhat overcast Portland, Oregon as the bouncy Beatle’s song “Two of Us” is heard on the soundtrack. At first the song seems a mysterious choice, with it’s chorus about “going home”. Neither character we are about to meet is in any process of going home–if anything they are preparing to leave their home for new experiences. But the song is about two people “Sunday driving, not arriving, on our way back home.” This perfectly fits Van Sant’s gentle but unsentimental view of life–especially as lived by the young. This is a story about two people who find each other–who “Sunday drive and don’t arrive” – but home is not part of their lives. It’s something they might dream about, knowing they will never really be there.

Restless is based on a short play by Jason Lew that was developed into a children’s book, before finally becoming a script. It landed on Van Sant’s desk via producer Dallas Bryce Howard and is a stripped-down story that takes some gentle but surprising turns as the characters are challenged by the tragic circumstances of their own lives.

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The Messenger – Film Review

TheMessenger

The Messenger
Directed by Oren Moverman
Review by Thomas W. Campbell

On November 10, 2009 I did a Q and A with director Oren Moverman, Ben Foster and Woody Harrelson after the NBR screening of The Messenger. Moverman is a wonderful craftsman of style and story and talked at length about shot set-ups and the importance of the long take to his story. Harrelson was tentative at first, wondering it seemed where I would be coming from. Once we got into film talk he perked up and became quite engaging. I asked Foster about his acting style, especially the way he seems to use space (and to close space) between himself and characters and he insisted that this was purely an instinctive element of his technique.

Link to original NBR review

The Messenger was written and directed by Oren Moverman, a screenwriter (I’m Not There, Jesus’ Son, Face) making his feature directing debut. Working with cinema-tographer Bobby Bukowski (Phoebe in Wonderland, The Stone Angel), Moverman has created a film that takes on controversy with a perfect balance of empathy and self-discovery.

The Messenger opens with a closeup of an eye, overexposed to nearly white. A hand comes into frame and puts eyedrops onto the cornea, the drops spilling like tears. The damaged eye (and leg) belong to Montgomery, a “hero” soldier back from Iraq waiting for his new orders. Portrayed by Ben Foster, memorable as the charismatic villain in 3:10 to Yuma, Montgomery is an intense, troubled man attempting to define his moral bearings in a world that seems suddenly foreign. He is assigned to the Army Casualty Notification Services and feels completely unprepared. “I haven’t had grief counseling yet,” he says at the interview. This dismays his senior partner, Officer Tony Stone, played with a wound-up intensity by Woody Harrelson. Stone, as tough as nails, sees no grey areas in the job. There are rules that must be followed: you give the message and only the message; you act with honor; you walk away from any emotional or physical encounter.
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Jane Eyre – Film Review

JaneEyre

Jane Eyre

On March 10, 2011 I did a Q and A with Cary Fukunaga and Mia Wasikowska following the NBR screening of Jane Eyre. Much of the very civilized conversation centered on the value of realism – and how the specific rural English locations sealed the deal in terms of authenticity, especially Haddon Hall in Derbyshire as the Thornfield castle.

Link to original NBR review.

Jane Eyre, directed by Cary Fukunaga (Sin Nombre), is the first major film adaptation of Charlotte Bronte’s ubiquitous 1847 novel since Franco Zefferelli’s 1996 version starring Charlotte Gainsbourg as Jane and William Hurt as her benefactor/tormentor Rochester. Working with producers Alison Owen (Shaun of the Dead, The Other Boleyn Girl) and Paul Trijbits (Fish Tank) and money from BBC television, Fukunaga has made a film that has the look and feel of a classic yet takes some chances with the material that might risk the “can’t be too faithful to the source material” crowd. Faced with the seemingly impossible task of coming up with a definitive version of a book and story that nearly everyone seems to know (there have been over 25 film and TV adaptations so far) Fukunaga and his team have created a film that captures the spirit and look of the novel in a way that entertains and feels right.

Casting a classic is always difficult–if you’ve read the book you have already imagined the perfect manifestations of the central character–probably as people who are in many ways similar to yourself. A film like Jane Eyre, with so many versions already casting impressions on us, can create confusion before we even step into the theater. Ms. Eyre, a teenager in the bulk of the book, is often cast in the Hollywood tradition of the established star–an older successful “name.” Rochester, the mysterious and sometimes coarse man who owns the strange castle she ends up at, seems to be a particularly troubling role to get right. He should be handsome, but not a dandy, brooding but not really disturbed, with a mystery but not unable to appreciate beauty when he stares her in the face. Played by Orson Welles in the Hollywood 1940’s version (to Joan Fontaine’s too old Jane), he seemed a bit “Wellesian,” as though at any moment he might stand up tall and declare “I am Charles Foster Kane!”. William Hurt, in Zefferelli’s version felt a bit eclectic–filled with the same neurotic tics and hesitations we have come to expect from Hurt (History of Violence, for instance).
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Still Walking – Film Review

StillWalking

Still Walking

Directed by Hirokazu Koreeda

Reviewed by Thomas W. Campbell

Originally released in August of 2009

Link to NBR Review

Still Walking, the new film by Hirokazu Koreeda, explores the complexities of family life in modern Japan, in part through the struggles of a male character who ultimately finds some kind of redemption. Two other recent Japanese films have explored this theme with style and expert storytelling: Tokyo Sonata by Kiyoshi Kurosawa, about a man ashamed at the loss of his middle- class job, and Departures by Yojiro Takita, the story of a man who leaves his wife and finds solace cleansing corpses in burial ceremonies, a task considered “untouchable” in some societies.

Still Walking is an elegant and subtly directed film that explores similar ground but with less physical action and a great deal of careful interaction. Ryoto returns to visit his aging parents in the home where he grew up on the fifteenth anniversary of an event that still haunts the family. The oldest son died trying to save a drowning friend, and his memory is held in such high esteem that it overshadows any attempt that Ryoto makes to establish his own identity in the eyes of his parents. Complicating the visit is the past of his new wife, a widow with a young son. While Ryoto and his family travel on the bus, we meet his mother, Toshiko, preparing vegetables in the kitchen with her daughter Chinami.  Chinami is a free spirit who has no use for the proper preparation of radishes, and the contrast with her mother’s culinary gravity sets a tone of levity that persists throughout the story, never letting even the most serious moments become too weighty or hopeless.

The effect of the careful compositions, gradual pacing, and subtle and realistic acting is that the storytelling draws the viewer into the complex emotions of the family gathering, slowly revealing the strained state of each relationship. Toshiko and her husband Kyohei do not get along, although she seems resigned to move forward in all the necessary ways. The father was a doctor, but old age and his failing health have forced him into retirement, resigning him to long lonely walks and much time alone in his once home office. When Ryoto arrives it is the mother’s seeming good nature that makes things bearable, despite the haunted memories and his father’s unhidden contempt for his career as an art restorer. Adding to Ryoto’s burden is the fact that he is currently unemployed and his shame will not allow him to discuss this with his parents. Although the story is shaped around the son’s disappointment, it is in the mother’s actions that emotional conflict and resolution are most fully explored. Events that at first seem benign, and even humorous, are revealed to carry coldly executed intention and even cruelty. Relationships that existed in seeming stasis for many years are seen from new and unexpected angles.

Still Walking leaves us with a series of sometimes humorous and always moving impressions, as though we had been peering through window shades for the entire visit, watching the slow unraveling of a graceful but dysfunctional family, while also learning their deepest secrets.

Potiche – Film Review

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Potiche

Potiche
A film by François Ozon
Review by Thomas W. Campbell

In March of 2011 I talked with Catherine Denueve following a screening of François Ozon’s comedy Potiche. The screening was for members of the National Board of Review. Denueve spoke about her pleasure of working with the young director, pairing up against the legendary Gérard Depardieu, and her continued love of acting. She was as graceful and beautiful as one would expect from an icon of modern cinema.

The review originally appeared here on the web site of the National Board of Review.

Potiche literally means a large impressive looking vase that is displayed to the owner’s benefit. Another definition, referred to in François Ozon’s latest film, is a “Trophy Wife”–a beautiful woman (or man as the case may be) who paid for and displayed to the husband’s (or wife’s) benefit. Catherine Denueve play Suzanne Pujol, the wife of a rich and unpleasant factory owner who has become, in her own words, “The Queen of kitchen appliances.” Ms. Denueve has filled world cinema with some of the most memorable roles of the last 45 year–as the troubled Severine in Louis Bunuel’s Belle de Jour, as the psychologically tormented Carole in Roman Polanski’s Repulsion, as Caroline Steiner, the wife of a Jewish theater owner in Nazi occupied France who falls in love with an actor played by Gérard Depardieu in François Truffaut’s The Last Metro. Potiche is the second film in which she has worked with Ozon, previously starring with an all-star ensemble cast in 2002’s Eight Women.

Potiche is an extremely enjoyable film that relies on carefully developed style, adept comic pacing, and the kind of character based humor that could fall flat if not done in the hands of a director capable of pulling it off. Potiche is a surprising departure for Ozon, who’s most memorable work has dramatic gravity that is anything but comic. Swimming Pool (2003) is a suspense film about a mystery writer (Charlotte Rampling) who leaves England to vacation at her editor’s French countryside cottage. A sudden visitor pulls her away from her work and ultimately draws her into a world of deception that might lead to murder. Hideaway (2009) tells the story of a young woman who loses her lover to a drug overdose then must struggle with the pregnancy she has been left alone to confront. Potiche feels like a new direction for Ozon, yet from start to finish it is accomplished, engaging, and a great deal of fun. The characters seem to have a strong resemblance to the good humored and playful ones in Truffaut’s lighter films (Day for Night, Jules and Jim) and the style of the film is just as colorful and intelligently created as in the recent work of Pedro Almodóvar.
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