Grace of Monaco

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Dir: Olivier Dahan  Wri: Arash Amel  Pro: Arash Amel, Pierre-Ange Le Pogam  Ed: Oliver Gajen  DOP: Eric Gautier  CAST: Nicole Kidman, Tim Roth, Frank Langella, Derek Jacobi

This preposterous, mind-numbingly boring account of the role Grace Kelly had in ensuring that Charles de Gaulle didn’t introduce taxes into Monaco arrives here in the wake of a deserved critical mauling at Cannes. Sadly, recalling Diana, the awfulness of the picture does not allow for fun, ironic enjoyment. Like that wretched film from last year, so bad it’s good this film definitely isn’t.

While an exploration of Grace Kelly in itself could have been interesting, the focus of how she nobly gave up her acting career so as to help her husband Prince Rainier III (Roth) protect all the poor princes of Monaco from having to pay taxes manages to be both jaw-droppingly misguided and also rigorously uninteresting. Why the filmmakers thought that this storyline would be of any interest to anybody and quite how they felt this alleged aspect of Kelly’s life as something noble and to be admired is so thoroughly beyond comprehension that one is left in a simply numb state. That the premise of a supposedly life-affirming biopic could be so misjudged would be offensive if it wasn’t so utterly stupid. This juxtaposition of bad politics and profound boredom is quite the achievement for director Olivier Dahan, who also made the over-rated Edith Piaf bio, La Vie en Rose.

The acting is largely unremarkable but not the type of terrible that could provoke any type of unintentional hilarity. Kidman, though definitely miscast, brings a dreary functionality to her Kelly. Tim Roth scowls, smokes and sighs his way through the film but he certainly avoids any accusations of campiness. In fact it appears that such is the low key nature of his performance that he’s hoping that if he just keeps his head down and doesn’t draw attention to himself people might forget he was ever in the film. I suspect Roth needn’t worry too much as it is unlikely that any viewers will be wanting to remember this mess once they are through enduring it.

At least Derek Jacobi seems to be having some fun, camping proceedings up a bit as a Count who – in one, of many, ludicrous sequences – goes about teaching Grace the correct ways to behave in Monaco. Generally, one is left feeling sympathy for talented performers such as Kidman and Roth being lumbered with such insipid material. The technical aspects of the film are for the most part equally nothing to write home about. The only genuinely good thing on show here is Eric Gautier’s lush, colourful cinematography.

Dahan himself appears bored at times. He takes to shaking the camera violently into the eyeballs and nostrils of Kidman in a few bizarre moments which, though unlikely to be confused with Jonathan Glazer’s lengthy Kidman close-up in Birth, do account for the closest thing to directorial inspiration one will encounter in this moronic film.

Avoid.

David Prendeville

16 (See IFCO for details)
115 mins

Grace of Monaco is released on 6th May 2014

Grace of Monaco – Official Website

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The Box

The Box

DIR/WRI: Richard Kelly • PRO: Richard Kelly, Dan Lin, Kelly McKittrick, Sean McKittrick • DOP: Steven Poster • ED: Sam Bauer • DES: Sam Bauer • CAST: Cameron Diaz, James Marsden, Frank Langella

The Box is a bitter disappointment. From the outset, the film aims to tackle tough moral questions, and shed light on the nature of the human condition. However, by the film’s conclusion, you feel these issues have not been sufficiently explored, let alone analysed, and you are no wiser to the film’s take on morality.

Director Richard Kelly’s latest venture begins humbly enough. Depicting a struggling family in 1970’s Virginia, couple Norma (Cameron Diaz) and Arthur (James Marsden) are confronted with an arresting moral choice. The graphically disfigured Arlington Steward (Frank Langella) presents the titular box, upon which there is a red button. Should it be pushed, the family will receive one million dollars, tax free.

And the inevitable catch? Pushing the button will directly prompt the death of another person, unknown to the couple. Of Course.

So it’s definitely unique; ridiculous yet unique. And before the first act is up, Kelly has produced an engaging moral dialogue, framed skilfully by sympathetic characters and an interesting, if superfluous, sub-plot. Sound appealing? Well, brace for disappointment, as soon all momentum for substantial moral discussion is lost and the film becomes as misshapen as Steward’s lightning-scarred face.

The Box quickly descends into a farcical array of half-cooked themes and unexplored plot points. Although the film persists in referencing its moralising roots, this is done without effort and the façade is, in turn, as mentally vacant as the Steward’s body-snatched ‘employees’.

Technically, there is plenty to admire in this movie: the star-studded cast does an admirable and thoroughly convincing job, specifically Langella who lends an air of charm, tension and, peculiar likeability to his role, despite its innate silliness. The editing and camerawork neither jar not jolt the experience. The pacing generates tension while gradually revealing the plot. Most importantly, and to the films credit, the subject of deformity is addressed sensitively and tactfully.

Sadly, these accomplishments cannot mask the blatant abandonment of moral dialogue. It’s possible that if The Box had kept its cards to its chest, the whole experience would come up aces and the surprising route it takes would intrigue rather than infuriate. Unfortunately, it lacks the courage to deliver on it promises, opting instead for a deformed, alien and downright bizarre tale.

Jack McGlynn
(See biog here)

Rated 15a (see IFCO website for details)
The Box
is released 4th Dec 2009

The Box – Official Website

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Frost/Nixon

DIR: Ron Howard • WRI: Peter Morgan • PRO: Tim Bevan, Eric Fellner, Brian Grazer, Ron Howard • DOP: Salvatore Totino • ED: Daniel P. Hanley, Mike Hill • DES: Michael Corenblith • CAST: Frank Langella, Michael Sheen, Rebecca Hall, Sam Rockwell, Toby Jones, Kevin Bacon

Frost/Nixon is a movie adaptation of an award-winning play, dramatising the events surrounding the most-watched interview in US TV history. The movie characterises contemporary figures, willingly being interviewed about their portrayal as part of the movie’s publicity (David Frost) and modern historic figures who have left indelible marks on political and cultural discourse (Richard Nixon). In being a treatment of one element of a larger-scale scandal and legacy, it is open to being doubly judged, firstly as a piece of entertainment and secondly as an account of a high-profile event.

The movie succeeds on both levels – it is a tightly wound, entertaining movie, with talented actors pedalling their trade. Characters are truly evoked on screen – in a lesser year Frank Langella would be a banker for an Oscar®, let alone a nomination, for his performance as Nixon. Certainly his actions and words become exalted but the standout scenes are those of the interview where what was considered his confession are delivered – quiet, reposed, fatalistic with discomfort. At one point a grimaced face looks to the camera and you need to catch your breath, the portrayal becomes so effective. This is his milkshake scene. Character is king here. Michael Sheen’s role as Frost should not be undervalued either; the man has carved out a niche of pitch-perfect portrayals, never impersonations, of historic figures. His character reflects a naivety and a guile, which ultimately proves key to the building sense of suspense and an oncoming battle.

You could put forward a hypothesis that everyone has some sense of who Richard Nixon was, his name has descended into such infamy – indeed as is remarked in the film, every political scandal of note since then has had the word ‘gate’ tagged on. Think of the countless times a Nixon mask has been worn in a bank heist movie or the parodying references to his sweaty brow and of course Matt Groening’s use of his dismembered head as a character in Futurama purely to continue to poke fun at him. It’s too easy to say the movie humanises him. The point of the exercise is not an exposé – no matter what the hearings prior to the Watergate scandal uncovered, they were a point of political order. The true accountability came with these interviews, a question and answer session beamed into American living rooms. People debate whether the result was truly a confession, or a futile effort at revealing already known details. Maybe the reality of what happened in the negotiations surrounding the interviews would portray a far more cynical set of motives. The movie, however, tells a story of a man conflicted by a desire to account for himself, tempered by material gain and proving his worth as a statesman.

A parallel is created with the travails of Frost and his desire to make an event without truly knowing his material. This is well done but in a way less interesting. An aura of respect and intrigue is effortlessly created around Nixon, almost through misdirection. Some sharp wit, reference to great achievements and depth of character are smartly included in a movie that also manages to be thrilling and suspenseful. Never once is there a sense we are watching an adaptation of a play and the lifelessness that can weigh down such a movie. Whether it is the script, use of mixed locales, the recreation of the era, the fact there is a call for claustrophobia at times or a combination of these elements, the movie is a comfortable watch with no niggling sense of why you are not engaging.

There are ‘robot-season movies’ and there are ‘end-of-year-season movies’, ‘Frost/Nixon’ clearly falls under the latter and may only attract a limited audience. This movie, however, can be watched and enjoyed with only cursory knowledge of the topic. It comes with a guarantee to compel your interest in the era and its people afterwards.

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