the-blue-room-posterI’ve only ever noticed Mathieu Amalric as an actor. I had no idea he could direct, and what an introduction to his directing is The Blue Room (La chambre bleue)!  What first strikes the viewer is the gorgeous work of cinematographer Christophe Beaucarne and set design by Christophe Offret. The framing is sometimes ideally symmetrical or fractured by strategic placement of foreground. Colors are either vibrant or obscured by shadow. These visuals carry an important weight because it will be hard to trust what anyone in this movie says. This is a murder-mystery, after all, and even though police detectives have caught their suspects at the start of the film, what actually happened will remain a mystery until the movie’s still intriguing finale.

Based on Georges Simenon’s 1955 novel, a book that reads like a puzzle gradually coming together and into focus, Amalric co-wrote the script with co-star Stéphanie Cléau with great respect to the work both literally and figuratively. The recurring image of a woman’s legs opening to reveal a glistening pubic bush half-covered in shadow is lifted right from the book. Oh, the trouble that lies within. But the story takes on another quality as a movie. It’s a fractured mirror inviting the viewer to both judge these people and sympathize with them, as the film takes a while to arrive at any sense that a horrific crime was committed.

The director/actor plays the lead role of adulterous husband Julien Gahyde married with a young daughter to the quietly suspicious but repressed Delphine (Léa Drucker). We meet him in the afterglow of sex with Esther Despierre (Cléau). She’s the wife of his family’s pharmacist. Julien seems both nervous and excited018949 by the liaison. But this is only a memory. In fact, the film seems filled and informed by the haze of memory. At a curt 76 minutes in run time, the movie is best thought of as a series of vignettes reflected on from the trial. Hidden in the edits could lie the truth. “Life is different when you live it and when you look back on it after,” Julien tells a magistrate early in the film during questioning.

Visually, blocking and vertical lines fracture many images, reflecting half-remembered situations. There are many windows, passages, doorways that represent obscured and maybe not completely honest memories. Presented in the 4:3 academy aspect ratio, which speaks to the influence of early mystery masters like Hitchcock and Chabrol, masters in the game of perception, the film’s framing also creates a window in and of itself. The movie is filled with many a lush image loaded with probable meaning. The score by Grégoire Hetzel is often overwrought and steeped in nostalgia. Strings swell and woodwinds modulate from wispy to soaring. It’s a bit over-the-top, but it’s by design.

Not only does Amalric show an incredible eye for beautiful staged images. He has pacing down to a brisk clip, and his interpretation of the source material is brilliant in how it embraces mystery and suspense giving no sign of relief but also la_chambre_bleue_balconno solid answers. The Blue Room is a baroque thriller that presents more than an answer to whodunit but offers the questions and stories in layers of tantalizing teases toward a subtle reveal that speaks more to the notion of judging people than any ultimate, definitive truth.

In some ways, the movie has a kinship with Gone Girl (‘Gone Girl’ examines perceptions we make with stories we tell — a film review). Like Fincher, Amalric prepares the viewer early on for the film’s unique quality. In the titular bedroom, Esther bites Julian on the lip, drawing blood. “Will your wife ask you questions?” she asks Julien. During his recounting of this incident to the magistrate, Julien is asked, “Could she have bitten you on purpose?” This is a film that says more in its questions than it does in any of its scenarios, so Amalric prepares the audience quite nicely to play interpreter and judge. Questions can only lead you so far, but they can also lead to great post-movie conversations, and many viewers will not always come away with an exactly similar viewing, as the film also features blink-and-you-might-miss-them behavioral reveals that will maintain the film’s intrigue long after the house lights go up. The Blue Room is an exquisite movie made for the dark chamber of the movie house.

Hans Morgenstern

The Blue Room runs 76 minutes, is in French with English subtitles and is not rated (but expect violence and frontal nudity). It opens this Friday, Oct. 17, in the Miami area at the Miami Beach Cinematheque. It then expands the following week, on Friday, Oct. 24, at the Bill Cosford Cinema at the University of Miami’s Coral Gables campus. IFC Films provided a DVD screener for the purpose of this review. It began screening across the U.S. on Oct. 3, so it may already be screening at your location, check local listings.

(Copyright 2014 by Hans Morgenstern. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.)

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“Where perception is, there also are pain and pleasure, and where these are, there, of necessity, is desire.” –Aristotle

There are two things you need to know about Gone Girl before going in to enjoy this movie. The first: it’s about a young woman who goes missing in a small town, and the husband is suspect. The second, nothing is really what it might seem to be. Now, that last point can mean many things, and because spoiling the plot of this film seems so sacrilegious, most of this review will focus on the latter without saying much about the story except its intentions to reveal a certain existential, grim truth about couples: how no one can ever truly know the other – a trap that the pair could either fall into or transcend.

The myth that intimacy between lovers gives them the power to read the other’s mind is demystified pretty early in Gone Girl. In flashback, the two lovers at the center of the film, Nick and Amy (Ben Affleck and Rosamund Pike), exchange presents: the same bed sheets. Amy makes a sarcastic comment about how endearing they must appear. Indeed this is a film not about the cute couple whose members think alike, but the appearances of the individuals in the relationships, the players who reach and shape behavior so they might appear acceptable to the other. Furthering that, the film questions the repercussions of such behavior on the interior of these people. Well, according to director David Fincher and novelist/screenwriter Gillian Flynn, it can rot them should they become slaves to them.

Fincher is perfect for adapting this huge hit of a book by Flynn, who closely collaborated with the director to realize her 18-million-plus bestseller for the big screen. The film is a showcase for the cinematic details Fincher – one of Hollywood’s few auteurs — so painstakingly often highlights. Dilated pupils stand out without resorting to ultra close-up shots. Beyond the usual dark cinematography featuring a pallet of grays, blues, silvers and browns, there is also the darkness in the soundtrack by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross who have become regulars of the Fincher aesthetic. The flashbacks featuring Nick and Amy engaging in their games of seduction are given an undercurrent of dread with swelling synthesizers that recalls the work of Angelo Badalamenti for David Lynch.

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It all successfully serves to sustain an atmosphere of nothing-is-what-it-seems throughout the film, and Fincher can mess with perception so grandly. Those who know this probably noticed the final note of The Social Network or the overall feeling of The Curious Case of Benjamin Button and Zodiac or even the heavy-handed revelation at the end of Fight Club. But no film in Fincher’s oeuvre has ever so blatantly considered manipulation of perception, both conscious and unconscious, so consistently, from one scene to another than Gone Girl.

After five years of marriage, Nick cannot seem to maintain the convincing face of a lover, which must make him guilty of the disappearance of his pretty young wife. Plot twists are revealed with a heightened sense of self-awareness that come across as almost satirically comical. But these instances are just plot elements that invite the viewer to examine how human beings relate to one another. All Gone Girl wants to do is mess with perception, from one scene to the next. Even the film’s title harbors a double meaning.

Early in the film, before Amy is declared missing, Nick sits at a bar and shares a drink with the barmaid (Carrie Coon). There’s an intimacy between them that makes the audience wonder. Why is he confiding in her about troubles in his marriage?Margot Why is she giving him crude sex advice? It is not until a couple of scenes later that the film reveals that this barmaid is Nick’s sister, Margot. A bit later in the film, more information is revealed about her: she is his twin. The game of fact versus perception is played on the audience while revealing a relationship that begs inference of closeness. It signals to the audience that not everyone is ever truly who they might seem to be and some bonds may be too close to fully comprehend.

The significance of the truth of the relationship between Nick and Margot versus its initial presentations is key on a subtle level. For something more direct, one could also quote the film’s opening monologue by Nick, but it’s so good it’s not worth spoiling. Just understand that Gone Girl will be dense with scenes that call attention to people who try to alter how others might see them, and the audience is often invited in on the joke. For instance, as the investigation into Amy’s disappearance begins, Margot tells Nick the next day not to shower so he might look like he was up all night. Still, even the bond between a twin brother and sister cannot be fully knowable. Before his first press conference she watches him basically bullshit on the phone. Responding to her WTF expression, he says, “I was trying to put on a good face.”

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There are flashbacks that present Nick and Amy as both playing roles in seducing the other while also trying to figure out what lies below. We learn they met at a party. Their conversation is full of easy-going banter but also lots of questions. At one point, Nick asks her flat-out, “Amy, who are you?” She gives him a trio of choices, two of which are false and one… well, not so false. When he pays her a compliment, she wonders about the sincerity of his statement coming from a face with a “sinister” cleft chin, so he covers it up with two fingers and repeats himself adding “no bullshit,” a character tick that will appear twice more in the film as he pursues her. These are not genuine people, no matter who they claim to be. They are indeed putting on masks. They are trying roles that might please the other and bring them closer. It’s the dating game, and it’s happened for eons.

Ultimately, no matter what anyone says or how they behave, no one outside that person can ever truly, honestly nor fully understand the other. These are not characters in a traditional sense of movies asking you to sympathize with them. movies-gone-girl-rosamund-pike-amy-dunneThey invite you in and dare you to relate with them in an incriminating way. There is also a meta layer of awareness that calls attention to the actors playing people trying play roles. Affleck famously suffered some flak last year when, during his Oscar acceptance speech, he called marriage “work” while giving credit to his wife, the actress Jennifer Garner. In Gone Girl, Amy writes in her diary, “Everyone told us and told us, marriage is hard work,” underlining the last two words.

These characters are ultimately roles, and while we know the names of the actors who play these roles, reality is always deeper and more complex. It becomes hard to fault the film for any stereotyping of which it could be called guilty of. The media persecuted Affleck for his statement so much so that Garner had to come to his defense. It’s egotistical to think anyone knows what really happens in the Affleck/Garner household. No matter how we struggle to understand behavior, much less statements, what really happens remains obscure. Gone Girl plays with this dynamic between actions, motivations and reason in a playful way, both keeping mystery interesting while also amusingly going for some IFlaughs of dramatic irony. It’s what keeps the nearly 2-and-a-half-hour-long movie interesting.

Fincher also has a wonderful cast to work with beyond the leads, which includes Neil Patrick Harris as Desi, a man with a romantic history with Amy, and Missi Pyle as a histrionic, judgmental Nancy Grace clone. Fincher and his regular casting director Laray Mayfield have also recruited a wonderful pair of actors for Amy’s parents. David Clennon and Lisa Banes embrace their roles of not just the parents of Amy the human being but the creators of her alter ego “Amazing Amy,” a character in a popular series of children’s books inspired by Amy. She’s both real and an idealized figment for these parents, who come across as contriving in a superficially sincere way. Banes is even made up heavily to look as though she is wearing a mask.

The film is rich with all this stuff. The popular news media, which is well known to pick and choose what missing persons story to follow, is also shown little mercy. The pop culture media machine eats up information like the superficial voracious recycling machine it is, and Gone Girl presents it on the superficial level it deserves. In Gone Girl, facts of course matter little. Facts only get in the way of assumptions, expectations and bias. Who needs honest inquisitiveness that might allow for a peak below the surface at what lies beneath, which only complicates perception? Looking below the surface is often complicated and messy. It tears down clear-cut heroes and villains. It means cracking open the skull of a surface you might love, to poke in the messy brains below the pretty surface. No one really wants to see and understand that … do they?

Hans Morgenstern

Gone Girl runs 149 minutes and is rated R (there’s bloody, gory violence, nudity and adult language). It opens pretty much everywhere today. Find screening times and places here. 20th Century Fox invited me to a preview screening Thursday night for the purpose of this review.

(Copyright 2014 by Hans Morgenstern. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.)

What if you didn’t bond with your baby right away? What if after giving birth, your life changes in ways you’re not ready to accept? The motherhood debate has long been a sensitive topic, one which is explored with tact and honesty in Kelly & Cal. It premiered this year at SXSW, a fitting place to unveil this independent film that focuses on a midlife crisis told through a female perspective. There, the film received the Gamechanger Award, which honors women filmmakers — a big boost to director Jen McGowan and first-time screenplay writer Amy Lowe Starbin. By focusing on middle-aged women as a multifaceted, dare I say, complex people, McGowan and Starbin are truly game-changers. Some of the issues they delve into include the search for personal identity as life gets complicated with motherhood and the struggles within relationships that reach a level of maturity.

Kelly & Cal opens with an exhausted Kelly (Juliette Lewis), six weeks after having her first child. When she visits her doctor, Kelly seems detached and even a little scared. Her doctor tells her she is healing and that she is ready to engage in sexual activity again. Kelly looks less than thrilled and comes back home to her newborn and husband Josh (Josh Hopkins), who quickly hands off the baby. She tells him about the news, and he responds by turning on the TV. The mood at home is far from romantic not only with a blaring TV and crying baby but also a new neighborhood that creates a widening gap between husband and wife.

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Indeed, it’s the old tale of suburbia. With her husband gone most of the day at work, Kelly looks for an outlet to cope with her perpetually bawling baby but has a hard time fitting into the neighborhood. She goes out for long, lonely walks with her newborn. During one such walk she encounters a group of happy mommies. After a brief exchange of polite introductions, the queen bee mom informs her that their group has an application to join with dues for activities and adds at the end: “but everyone is welcome.”

Kelly is out of her element, for she was hip once, which she soon decides to reveal to a much younger, frank-talking, wheelchair-bound neighbor, Cal (Jonny Weston). She impresses him with a cassette tape and a story of an earlier life as the former bassist for a riot grrrl band called Wetnap, which went nowhere beyond existing in the ’90s zeitgeist. The embittered angsty teen becomes smitten, the aura of which is not lost on Kelly. Back to reality: adding to her woes, Kelly’s in-laws make it clear that they think she is seriously in need of a motherhood intervention. Cybil Shepard plays her passive-aggressive mother-in-law who sees Kelly adrift and tackles her as a project, providing her with babysitting, a makeover and even cooking. The well-intentioned mother-in-law only succeeds at making Kelly feel more awkward about her new role.

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But then there’s 17-year-old Cal, a neighbor who not only listens to Kelly but also finds her attractive. For Kelly, the attention — though unwanted — is most welcomed. Weston gives an earnest delivery as a teenager trying to find his footing after losing the ability to walk and some of his motor skills in an accident. During his first interaction with Kelly it becomes apparent that both are running away from their current circumstances. Their encounter comes as Kelly sits in her backyard smoking while her infant cries, Cal asking for a smoke:

Your kid is crying, Kelly.
I know. The whole fucking neighborhood can hear him cry.
So, you’re just gonna let him cry it out?
Cry it out? It’s called ferberizing. When they cry.
Right, I think I heard of ferberizing.
I’m sure you have.
No, I’m not kidding.
Okay.
You have great tits.
Excuse me?
This little junior in there should be more grateful.

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Though the exchange might seem shocking; it is the first bit of attention they both get. Their relationship ensues as both get something that they crave from the other, something lacking in their lives. The collaboration between McGowan and Starbin successfully maintains a female point of view on the hardships of motherhood and maintaining relationships with the in-laws. Although there are some sincere moments of vulnerability portrayed onscreen thanks to some great acting by Lewis, who appears subdued and frail, by the film’s mid-point the dialogue starts to lose its punch and wanders off to commonplace, predictable areas of over-sincerity of good intentions. For instance, Kelly reaches out to Cal after she rejects him and offers him a piece of wisdom, “You cannot let your chair define you.”  Although adventurous, Starbin easily dials back the dynamic between Kelly and Cal, which gets resolved not without conflict but neither in any original way. While the ideas behind the film are impactful, the delivery and execution become less so, as the film lumbers toward its finale. One feels like there was a compromise somewhere between the beginning of the film and the unraveling of the relationship between Kelly and Cal and the subsequent mending of affairs between Kelly and her husband, Josh.

An enjoyable film nonetheless, Kelly & Cal comes from a sincere place that does not forget its sense of humor while tackling the seriously complex issue of growing up in adulthood. Hopefully it marks the occasion of many more films featuring middle-aged women as leads with honest, human flaws.

Ana Morgenstern

Kelly & Cal runs 104 minutes and it is not rated (but there is language and nudity). The film opens in South Florida on Oct. 3 at the Cosford Cinema in Coral Gables and Oct. 17 at Cinema Paradiso in Fort Lauderdale and Cinema Paradiso in Hollywood. It is also on demand. But see it in a local theater! Check listings outside of South Florida, visit here.

(Copyright 2014 by Ana Morgenstern. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.)

ChildOfGod_keyart_406x600Note: This review does go into spoilers, but I feel I needed to in order to explain some of the film’s redemptive and misunderstood qualities.

Some of the bleakest films in recent memory have been based on books by Cormac McCarthy. The Road almost felt like an exercise in hopelessness. No Country for Old Men had a sense of inevitable futility. Respectively directed by John Hillcoat and the Coen Brothers the films captured McCarthy’s dark sensibility via cinema. Now comes the media factotum James Franco to take on McCarthy and one of his earlier novels: Child of God, which is not only told from the demented perspective of a serial killer who has sexual relations with corpses but does not forget those who failed to stop him. Whatever you might think of this actor/director/author/poet who seems to spread himself kind of thin, there is no lack of quality direction invested in his adaptation. It follows Lester Ballard, a man abandoned by his family, community and humanity as a whole. What becomes of such a person is disturbing in its implications of society, and that Franco pulls off channeling that from the book as well as he does — though not flawlessly — deserves praise.

Smartly constructed, Franco’s Child of God (like the book) unfolds across three distinct acts that subtly grow baser and more harrowing as the story unfolds. The film takes place in rural, mid-20th century Tennessee. It’s winter, and the trees are mostly stripped bare of their leaves. Actor Scott Haze puts himself into the titular character of Lester Ballard with a grandiose lack of inhibition. We meet him confronting a group of people and an auctioneer on what Ballard says is his rightful property. Rifle in hand, he yells bloody murder at those who show interest in the land and large house. The scene, as with much of the film, is presented via handheld camera. It establishes the movie’s raw tone early on. Furthering the film’s earthy quality, the extras and bit players come across as non-actors genuinely recoiling as this beast of a man in a scruffy beard spits angst and frustration in an almost unintelligible drawl.

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Child of God would probably not be as watchable were it not for Haze’s go-for-broke performance. His version of Ballard recalls what Denis Lavant did with Mousier Merde, a remarkable monster who could hardly speak and ate bouquets of flowers after emerging from the sewer in two films by Leos Carax, a short film in the omnibus Tokyo! and his terrific feature Holy Motors. But Haze doesn’t get the cartoonish flourishes of living underground and devouring flowers. Ballard feels more realistically and frighteningly grounded in the primal.

What Child of God is more interested in exploring — if it’s not already apparent in the title – is the underlying, universal basis that everyone needs human connection. In one scene after another Ballard is denied genuine, vested sympathy by others on screen. Haze channels Ballard’s anguish with a visceral performance beyond his unkempt exterior and a nose prolific enough to produce large globules of mucus when he’s at his most desperate. His hangdog face and over-bite add to his character’s pitiable quality, but there’s also a conviction in his eyes and posture that never wavers throughout the movie.

Franco also uses cinematic flourishes that speak to his keen skills as a director. The perspective of this man is of course easily manipulated through cinema. It’s about editing and the decision of what to show of the narrative, but it is a film that “shows” in the best narrative sense. CHILD OF GOD-Scott Haze - 1The banjo music by Aaron Embry brings Deliverance to mind and unknown narrators give background vignettes that allude to the ghost of the person Ballard once was, though they make him no less frightening. “He’d grown lean and bitter. Some say mad,” says a voice-over narrator as Ballard stalks the side of a road, his gun in plain view, yelling at cars. Oh, Ballard also defecates in the woods and scrapes between his butt cheeks with a stick (just one more element of Haze’s conviction to his character).

With a harsh, layered musical sting out of a horror movie, Franco turns to Part II of the film. The unseen narrators have dropped out at this point, reflecting the notion that what lies ahead will seem inconceivable to the civilized person. Eventually, Ballard stumbles across a pair of young lovers who have died in their car of carbon monoxide poisoning, and during an extended sequence that features him having his way with the corpse of the young woman, he finds love. Ballard is now cuddling up with the young woman’s body in an abandoned home, saying “it’s me and you.” Companionship at last. As noted, the film is only headed further down a grim path. The sheriff (Tim Blake Nelson) who enters the film to the sound of bells is half on alert for Ballard. As the unkempt, homeless man is left to roam the woods, he eventually finds shelter in a cave. Ballard is mostly regarded as a nuisance… until his crimes are revealed.

This is a man presented with little human connection from the beginning of the film and alluded to as much by the mysterious narrator(s) who help flesh out Part I of the film. It’s an extreme and ultimate example of the dissolution of humanity, but it stays true to the McCarthy ethos. Yet, deep under the murder and necrophilia, COG-1073Franco finds a way to keep the humanity of the film’s protagonist relatable while maintaining an objective sensibility that does not make his acts forgivable. The film only seems to jump too ambitiously toward the end, after Ballard seems to have come to terms with his impulses, giving him an alien quality that betrays the film’s ambitions… or maybe it’s making its point even more harshly.

It’s tough to say because Child of God demands a lot from the audience that dares to seek out truly adventurous filmmaking. Far from a feel good film yet not deserving of the label of exploitation, Child of God aspires for a kind of enlightenment via the shadows that should not be ignored. As with much of Franco’s work, it’s the fact that he dares to explore certain themes that does not always make him easily palatable but no less worth shrugging off as irrelevant. He’s not.  Of course there is no excusing Ballard’s crimes, but the film speaks to the need of sympathy for such people. It’s a cautionary tale that supposes psychosis as a social problem and not all psychological. A lack of moral guidance can happen from the outside as well as from within. The film dares to indict society and the onlooker as much as its protagonist. No one is innocent of horrors because, let’s face it, stuff like this can happen.

Hans Morgenstern

Child of God runs 104 minutes and earns its R rating. It opens exclusively in South Florida at the Miami Beach Cinematheque on Friday, Sept. 15, which provided a screener link for the purpose of this review. On Wednesday, Sept. 24 at 7 p.m., actor Scott Haze will join “Variety” film critic Justin Chang and “Hudak On Hollywood” film critic Andres Solar for the Knight Foundation-sponsored series “Speaking In Cinema” to discuss this film. A meet-and-greet party at the Sagamore Hotel ends the night. Tickets for each screening and the event can be found by visiting mbcinema.com.

(Copyright 2014 by Hans Morgenstern. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.)

TTI_21.6_M2.0V5.0Following their 2011 film The Trip, Steve Coogan, Rob Brydon and Michael Winterbottom reunite again for The Trip to Italy, which follows the same format as its predecessor, only playing with a few slight twists. The two actors get together for a road trip under the pretense that The Observer will publish their musings on fine dining, wine and spectacular high-end hotels. The difference this time is that the actors are supposed to be following in the footsteps of Byron and Shelley. They even bring books with them to inform the experience, which, reflective of the last trip, of course, leads to more than one poetry-out-loud smack-down between the two.

So what if there’s a familiarity to the formula with only small differences in circumstances? If you enjoyed the last trip, this will do just as well. This time, as opposed to the English countryside, the pair sets off to Italy. Brydon contacts Coogan and argues that the first iteration of the report was a success, and The Observer is now footing the bill for them to visit Rome, Liguria, Capri and more. The relationship between the actors is one of friendly rivalry. Like siblings – in another recurring theme – they invest in competition driven by ego, as when they compete for the best impersonation of Michael Caine, Sean Connery, Christian Bale, Tom Hardy (my favorite) and so many others.

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The Trip to Italy is the prolific Winterbottom’s first sequel, and it would precede a director like him, who has dabbled in a variety of genres, to call attention to the notion of the sequel within the film. Early on, both Coogan and Brydon comment on how awkward sequels can be, so caveat emptor. Brydon and Coogan once again play exaggerated versions of themselves in a style recalling “Curb Your Enthusiasm” by Larry David. The Trip to Italy, however, is definitely British in its style of humor. Their banter, though incredibly funny, has slowed down from the previous installment of The Trip. Here, a calmer Coogan settles into himself and — to the extent that is possible — also laughs at himself. The change feels real, it comes after the actor appeared and co-wrote the screenplay for last year’s Philomena, which was a departure from the comedic work that made Coogan famous.

Against vistas of an idyllic countryside in Italy that almost resemble landscape paintings, Coogan and Brydon discuss the important things in life, like Alanis Morrissette’s Jagged Little Pill, a CD which Brydon attributes ownership to his wife, yet they sing along to it during one of the funnier chats about their own relationships with women. Despite the rivalry, the tone in this sequel seems to be more caring about relationships. In one of the twists of The Trip‘s formula that both calls attention to itself while also playing with reinvention, this time it is Brydon who undergoes some sort of personal crisis, casting doubts on his own abilities while gallivanting around Italy. He says early in the film that he is perceived by the British audience as affable, but he is not as affable as his public persona, so he can let loose in Italy — and does he ever … as he will come to regret.

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Beyond the laughs, The Trip to Italy is about a inner journey of life and accepting the ups and downs may not always be easily done. This consideration comes via a more profound Coogan, who is working to come to terms with mortality and searching for a deeper meaning to his life. He bonds with his son and apologizes to a woman he had a one-night stand with in the previous film — huge strides for someone who was portrayed as a narcissist in the previous film. As with any journey, the sequel shows that there are ups and downs and everything in between.

The film is thoroughly enjoyable, especially for those who appreciate British humor and are avid consumers of popular culture. If you go, make sure you get some snacks or have a dinner appointment right after the film. Winerbottom inter-cuts the conversations with positively hunger-inducing cooking, prepping and plating shots from the kitchens that will have you craving pasta for days!

Ana Morgenstern

The Trip to Italy runs 108 minutes and is rated R (the banter and subject matter can get adult). It opens in South Florida in the following theaters on Sept. 12: O Cinema Miami Shores, Movies of Lake Worth, Movies of Delray 5, Living Room Cinema 4 in Boca Raton. It also opens on Sept. 19 at the Cosford Cinema in Coral Gables. If you live outside of Florida please check here for local listings. It’s also available via VOD. IFC Films provided a DVD screener for the purpose of this review.

Update: The film will open at Cinema Paradiso Fort Lauderdale on Wednesday, Oct. 29. For more information and tickets visit this link.

(Copyright 2014 by Ana Morgenstern. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.)

jealousyThe opening shot in Jealousy (La Jalousie) is striking in its power and minimalism. Clothilde (Rebecca Convenant), staring slightly off camera, struggles between smiling and crying. It’s a brilliant moment that shows a profound range of emotions washing over her, as she oscillates from sadness to deep pensiveness to a look that almost seems like acceptance before a fade to black. The powerful shot sets the scene for the film, which does not rely on flashy flourishes but rather the stillness of the camera capturing human emotions as they unfold. Jealousy tells the story of serious, sensitive, struggling actor Louis (played by Louis Garrel, the director’s son), who early in the film ends a relationship with Clothilde, the mother of his child, also a former actress. He has moved on to a new relationship with Claudia (Anna Mouglalis), who is also a struggling actress, as she hasn’t landed a role in over six years. The couple’s daughter Charlotte (Olga Milshtein) is also deeply affected. We meet her through a beautiful shot, as she watches her parents break up through a keyhole in her door. She certainly can feel something has upended their world, but she cannot understand it.

While on the surface the story of Jealousy can be succinctly summarized: a man breaks up with the mother of his child for another woman who in turn leaves him for another (wealthier) man, the layers of narrative make this film a deep psychological portrait of relationships. It goes beyond the romantic bond between the partners. Director Philippe Garrel is in his finest, most subtle form in years. He presents several scenes with Louis and his daughter in these small moments that create depth and intimacy in a relationship. Seemingly — at least by the Hollywood standards of action-driven narrative — not much happens, yet we are able to gain an understanding of who these people are and what motivates them because of the director’s delicate hand.

Though the film is titled Jealousy, the theme seems to be more about what binds people together and the complex ties interwoven in a mosaic of people coming in and out of one another’s lives. In one of the scenes, Louis, who grew up without his father, is approached by a woman who tells him she loved his father. In another montage, Claudia washes the feet of an old writer whom she befriended because she liked his work so much. These vignettes might be confusing or out-of-place, but in Garrel’s subtle narrative they connect us to the characters and create an atmosphere that feels so familiar it allows us easy empathy for these people.

A standout character is little Charlotte, who moves the story along with her straightforward yet delightfully sweet tone. The character is partially based on director’s own experience as a child. For instance, in one of the scenes Charlotte talks to her mom about the lovely day she spent with her dad and his new girlfriend. The scene plays out as she starts to divulge the fun afternoon and then tries to take it back as she notices her mom’s reaction. In an interview with Film Comment Garrel admitted that the episode happened to him, and he remembered feeling guilty about it. That is just one of the ways in which this film is so personal, yet the performance by Covenant makes it very light with a performance that feels genuine.

A study on relationships, Jealousy feels both abstract and quite personal. Shot in black and white, the film showcases the many shades of gray within the personal. The acting is at times subtle but clearly depicts the high and low points of flawed relationships with earnest affection by a director who has returned in full effect. The choice of black and white, Garrel said in the interview, comes from his love of silent cinema:  “I’ve made silent movies, I love silent films. They’ve left their mark on me.” When it comes to acting, one can see that he pays painstaking attention to the technical details. The mise-en-scène is one of the main achievements of this film. Also, the film was shot in real anamorphic scope, 35mm. Garrel also specified “for certain close-ups I use special lenses, designed to shoot from very close, which allow faces an incredible expressivity.” A beautiful film indeed, and one that will leave a lasting impression for sure.

Ana Morgenstern

Jealousy has a run time of 77 minutes, is in French with English subtitles and is not rated. The film opens in the South Florida area today, Friday, Sept. 5 at the Tower Theater in Miami, the Miami Beach Cinematheque and in Coral Gables at the Bill Cosford Cinema (all theater names are hotlinks to screening times and dates). The Tower Theater provided an on-line screener for the purpose of this review.

(Copyright 2014 by Ana Morgenstern. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.)

coverDespite what you may have seen at last night’s MTV Music Video Awards, classic rock ‘n’ roll is not going to ever go away. As this veteran music writer grows older, every year there seems to be some group of younger and younger musicians who come up with new music that harkens back to the roots of rock. Last week, I pointed out Broncho, a band from Norman, Oklahoma, who have come up with one of the catchiest tunes of 2014. Their song “Class Historian” hits on the tiniest details of ‘70s era post punk with an uncanny sensibility (Broncho’s new single: the catchiest indie rock song I’ve heard in years).

Tomorrow, Ty Segall will release his 12th full-length album, Manipulator. Over the past few years Segall has refined his garage rock noise-pop to feature more diversity in his song-writing and a stronger grip on the subtleties of the rock song. Opening like nothing else in his catalog: with a blare of harmonizing organs, the album bounds along through 17 tracks as varied as anything else in his career. Some even include strings. But he has not compromised his command of the electric guitar, offering many a shifty, screeching solo over the course of the sprawling, near hour-long LP (and double vinyl – order here to support IndieEthos).

ty_promo_4_by_denee_petracek

“The Singer” is one of several tracks that feature a string section. It also has the added bonus of whispered vocals to add emphasis to a few words that end certain phrases — very ‘60s psychedelic. But, more than ever, the influences that shine brightest are that of the early ‘70s glam rock scene. Segall’s voice more than ever recalls Marc Bolan, and there’s even a song (“The Clock”) that features strings and an acoustic guitar line that sounds eerily like the one that drives “Andy Warhol,” a deep cut on Bowie’s classic 1971 album Hunky Dory.

A back-to-back trio of songs early in Manipulator cast a powerful shadow of the guitar crunch bravura Segall is best known for over the album. “It’s Over,” features the pounding, driving, feedback-fueled stuff fans would be more familiar with.ty_promo_8_by_denee_petracek “Feel” opens more subtly but eventually features a muscular guitar solo that builds and builds to more rapid plucking until it gives way to a drum solo featuring a nice amount of cowbell. Finally, “Faker” features dominating, strutting guitar work that stands as testament to Segall’s connection with the instrument.

But there are more surprises in store. “The Connection Man” is driven by pulsing archaic electronics that brings to mind the tools of the Silver Apples. Over all, Manipulator is one grand rallying cry celebrating the immortality of rock ‘n’ roll, produced with great affection with his stalwart collaborators Mikal Cronin (bass), Emily Rose Epstein (drums) and Charles Moothart (guitar) and several other guest musicians adding vocals, keyboards and strings. Manipulator speaks to Segall’s strength of a musician open to growth and experimentation without betraying any semblance of a signature style and could very well stand as his best album yet. I’ll leave you with a link to an mp3 of a preview track released a few weeks ago, “Susie Thumb” (jump to KEXP.org for it).

Hans Morgenstern

Ty Segall will be in Miami with Wand (Drag City/LA), Plastic Pinks and DJ Sean Ashworth on Thursday, Sept. 11, 9 p.m. at The Stage Miami courtesy of Miami’s coolest vinyl shop Sweat Records, where you can also pick up the record and tickets to the show. Ages: 18 and up. Tickets: $12 in advance, $15 at the door. His U.S. tour kicks off Aug. 28 Click here for tour dates. Pitch Perfect PR provided me with a preview of the album for the purpose of this review and an up-coming article in “Pure Honey” magazine.

(Copyright 2014 by Hans Morgenstern. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.)
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