Cinema Review: Looking for Hortense

looking-for-hortense

 

DIR: Pascal Bonitzer • WRI: Agathe de Sacy, Pascal Bonitzer • PRO: Ben Said • DOP: Romain Winding • ED: Elise Fievet  • CAST: Jean-Pierre Bacri, Kristen Scott Thomas, Claude Rich, Isabelle Carre

Pascal Bonitzer’s new Parisian romantic drama stars Jean-Pierre Bacri and Kristin Scott Thomas as a dysfunctional middle-aged couple. A film that features some fantastic performances, convincing dialogue, absorbing sound and some beautiful visuals is let down in one crucial area, the story. For all its style, Looking for Hortense ends up having very little to say.

Damien Hauer (Jean-Pierre Bacri) is a mid-life-crisis-bound intellectual whose strained relationship with the chain smoking Iva (Kristen Scott Thomas) is being drawn out for the sake of their 12-year-old son. When Zorica, an illegal alien and friend of Iva’s, is threatened with deportation Damien promises to ask his estranged father (Claude Rich), a state councillor, to intervene.

Damien spends the first half of the film trying to track down his busy father for a 5-minute conversation. It is as riveting as it sounds. If your friend told you, over a café au lait, that all of this happened to him you would nod along and think it vaguely interesting. However, if he then said he was going to make a film from this story you would wonder why anyone else would care. No doubt some will applaud the anti-Hollywood slow pace of Looking for Hortense, but while it is certainly not “Hollywood”, there is not much payoff for the humdrum story.

There seems to have been an attempt to forgo depth in pursuit of naturalism and, to its credit, in this it succeeds. Strong performances create a convincing portrayal of a dysfunctional family, and the protagonist’s predicament, while uninteresting, is entirely believable.

The cinematography by Romain Winding makes Paris look truly beautiful, which might get you thinking about your next weekend break as the story meanders slowly to its underwhelming conclusion. The music from Alexei Aigui is fantastic, giving those who can overlook the lack of substance enough style to chew on.

Pascal Bonitzer made his mark as a screenwriter for the likes of André Téchiné and Jacques Rivette, but his latest directorial venture offers nothing new and feels disappointingly light.

Glenn Caldecott

Rated 12A,

100 mins
Looking for Hortense is released on 9th August 2013

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Cinema Review: The Deep

The-Deep_510x317

 

DIR: Baltasar Kormákur WRI: Jón Atli Jónasson, Baltasar Kormákur  PRO: Agnes Johansen, Baltasar Kormákur   DOP: Bergsteinn Björgúlfsson  ED: Sverrir Kristjánsson, Elísabet Ronaldsdóttir   DES: Andy Kelly  Cast: Ólafur Darri Ólafsson, Jóhann G. Jóhannsson

The Deep is a tender retelling of one ordinary man’s miraculous survival, and his return to normality after his extraordinary act. Those who like their disasters given the Hollywood treatment had best steer clear, because The Deep is a modest account that lets the story, as well as some stunning visuals from cinematographer Bergsteinn Björgúlfsson, speak for themselves.

In 1984, an Icelandic fishing trawler set out from the Westmann Islands into the freezing waters of the North Atlantic Sea. In stormy weather their nets snagged and the vessel capsized, sending its six-man crew into the frigid sea. In the freezing waters they should have all perished within half an hour but, in an unexplainable feat, one crewman survived by swimming for six hours and walking for two more across cracked volcanic glass to reach the nearest settlement. The story of this Icelandic legend, named Guðlaugur Friðþórsson, or Gulli, is told in this new film by Baltasar Kormákur.

We first meet anti-hero Gulli and his lovable band of bungling shipmates out drinking in the long dark nights of the southern Icelandic islands. Even here the cinematography excels, capturing a grim beauty in the harsh and lonely landscape. The next morning, hangovers in tow, the ordinary fishermen set sail on their rusted vessel, through picturesque fog, to what will be their doom. We spend just enough time with the rest of the crew to care about them while Gulli’s story progresses.

Ólafur Darri Ólafsson is wonderfully cast in the lead role. When he finds himself alone in the freezing expansive ocean, we are subtly drawn into his frustration, as a ship passed within 300 metres of him, his sorrow and his desperation. There are even touching moments of comedy as he talks to the seagulls to keep the psychological effects of hypothermia at bay.

Here the bleak stillness of the North Atlantic is interrupted by 8mm home-movie style footage in 4:3 format. We see a heart-breaking sequence showing what Gulli would do if he had one more day at home, as well as scenes from his past surrounding the 1973 eruption of the Eldfell Volcano. Featuring the volcanic disaster as a backdrop highlights the hard times that have befallen Icelandic people, hard times that would continue with the economic collapse in 2008. The survival of this underdog fisherman then becomes a metaphor for Iceland’s survival, and we can see why the story has become locally mythologised.

At regular intervals, the sea temperature is displayed on screen, which leads to the question why not make this a documentary? Certainly, the main draw of this film is the captivating story itself, and it could have easily have become over dramatized. Yet Kormákur treats the material sensitively, and clean scrip and good performances contribute to a naturalism that gives weight to our grief.

At its heart, this story concerns the remarkable survival – not of an athletic super human, but of a modest, overweight, chain-smoking drunkard. The second half of the film deals with Gulli’s return to civilization, and having to deal with at first being told his feat was impossible, and then with being heralded as a “national hero”. Here the film stalls as Kormákur’s technique of telling it how it is fails to delve deep enough into the personal and psychological effects of Gulli’s experience. And, while first half felt well-paced, a fairly abrupt ending left me wanting more.

While the later parts of The Deep could do with more depth, and while its modesty will not be for everyone, the film’s stunning visuals and clean storytelling turn an already remarkable tale into a thoroughly enjoyable film.

Glenn Caldecott

93 mins

The Deep is released on 12th July 2013

The Deep – Official Website

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Interview: Louis Leterrier, director of ‘Now You See Me’

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An all-star cast play cops and street magicians-turned bank robbers in Louis Leterrier’s new blockbuster, Now You See Me. Glenn Caldecott caught up with the director to talk about working with such a great cast, big budgets, and why he wants this film to define his career.

How did you first get involved in Now You See Me?

Well it was one of these things for me, I think the correct expression would be a passion project. It had a great script, a great writer, and I just thought it was such a smart idea to have magicians robbing banks and giving the money back to deserving audiences. Ultimately I thought it was just a great concept.

It actually started off as a smallish movie, with small magicians doing small shows and gradually getting bigger. As we started casting and the cast got bigger, the shows got bigger and so did the movie. But for me it was originally going to be one of these small movies that I was going to do between the big ones.

 

And it is a great cast. Was there anyone in particular that you were interested in working with, or anyone you particularly enjoyed working with?

Well frankly, all of them. It’s obviously a terrific cast. I’d worked with Morgan (Freeman) before on Unleashed and I knew Mark Ruffalo, but there were some of the cast I didn’t know. It’s funny that sometimes in casting you go from your first choice to your second choice to your third, but nearly all of these were my first choice.

For me the perfect cop was bumbling, always behind the ball but still trying really hard, a super anxious version of Columbo. And the person I really wanted for that was Mark Ruffalo.

And then with Jesse Eisenberg, we were casting a year or so after The Social Network came out and I was watching this movie every day because it is such a brilliant movie, and I was just obsessed with Jesse Eisenberg. I really think he’s one of the greatest actors of our generation and, even though the lead magician was written as this cocky womaniser, I managed to get my way and convinced the studio to let me meet with him and convince him to be in this movie.

So both Mark and Jesse said yes and, even though it was clear we would need to do some rewrites for their characters, they decided to trust me and, importantly, wait for me because there were so many roles in this movie that it might have taken us six months or a year to cast. Then one great actor attracts another who attracts another, so when I called them a year later and told them everyone we had got, it was a very exciting prospect.

 

And I understand another thing that came from you was the decision, with so many directors now shooting digitally, to shoot on 35mm film. Can you talk us through that decision?

For me it was all about the lenses. I love anamorphic lenses, and I’ve used them a lot. I think there is a relationship between depth of field and light that just works so well. I knew shooting on film would be a challenge simply because of the number of sets, the number of scenes and how fast we were supposed to shoot. We shot the entire movie in 59 days, but I just couldn’t let go of the anamorphic lenses. They really gave us the rocking all aspect of the big shows with the big flairs and everything like that. So I ended up shooting less footage than if I had been shooting with digital cameras but I think the payoff was worth it.

Although it almost felt like a swansong of film. Already in post-production it’s hard to get good scans, it seems like no one can control film anymore, and a lot of film technicians are retiring. I think my next movie I will shoot digital.

 

I’m really interested in knowing the role that the Irish magician Keith Barry played in production. I understand he was taken on as a “mentalist consultant”?

Yeah he was so important in our movie. What I wanted was 100% real magic. Nothing fantastic or supernatural, I wanted it to be real. And I wanted it to be stuff that had rarely been seen, so tricks that magicians are working on right now. So Keith sat down with our new writer, Ed Solomon, and they crafted together what became the movie. I frankly would not have been able to do that movie without him.

And it didn’t stop there because afterwards he came on set and trained Woody (Harrelson) to hypnotise people. So everything that Woody does, the idea inception and hypnotist techniques, the physical aspect of how he’d move on stage, is all real stuff. Sometimes I’d literally be directing scenes with Keith next to me and I’d call cut and ask him if it was good and if it wasn’t we’d change things. I was like Keith’s assistant sometimes!

 

You have directed high budget action movies in the past, but, as a director, was there anything new that you learnt from making Now You See Me?

With this film I really learnt to be more comfortable with big budgets. I learnt to be less stressed about the days where I’d be directing 600 extras along with all these international superstars. But at the same time you can’t get too comfortable because that’s where you make mistakes and sometimes it’s healthy to doubt yourself and ask if you’re making the right decisions. I came in everyday more prepared. On other movies I’d come out with 20 shots that look good but wouldn’t be edited as you want so why bother wasting an hour and a half getting a shot you wouldn’t be able to edit.

Something else, from working with great actors on this and in the past, is to allow them and yourself complete freedom. The best thing that can happen is that wonderful surprise when you might be working with two actors who react differently to how you expect and create something really magical, no pun intended.  You know, those moments like Harrison Ford coming in to shoot this long fight scene in Indiana Jones, but he has a tummy ache and just can’t do it so pulls out his gun and shoots the guy. The whole crew laughs and it works, its gold, and I’m way open to that.

So we rehearsed a lot before the shoot, almost like a play, and then when we shot we continued to rehearse. We would stay on the stage and all the actors would come in with their ideas, and that’s where we would get moments of true comedy that are often unwritten.

 

And finally then, what’s next for you?

I’m reading a lot and writing also. I really want to take time with this one and not rush into something else because this really is my baby. If there is one movie in my career that defines who I am as a director it’s this one, so I didn’t want to just abandon it, I want people to see it for what it is. It’s a fun movie but it was done from the heart by people who love it. People come out of it happy, and that’s what’s important to me.

 

Now You See Me is released in cinemas on 3rd July.

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Cinema Review: Now You See Me

NOW YOU SEE ME

 

DIR: Louis Leterrier • WRI: Ed Solomon, Boaz Yakin, Edward Ricourt • PRO: Bobby Cohen, Alex Kurtzman, Roberto Orci • DOP: Mitchell Amundsen, Larry Fong • ED: Robert Leighton, Vincent Tabaillon • DES: Peter Wenham • Cast: Jesse Eisenberg, Mark Ruffalo, Woody Harrelson, Mélanie Laurent

Jesse Eisenberg, Woody Harrelson, Isla Fisher and Dave Franco play ‘The Four Horsemen’, a rag-tag group of illusionists, hypnotists and street magicians that are assembled by a mysterious entity to form a magician super-group. Think The Avengers, but with David Blaine and Paul Daniels. A year on, they attract the attention of jaded FBI agent, Mark Ruffalo, and lovely French detective, Mélanie Laurent, when they publicly rob a bank during a Las Vegas show. Completing this cast of charismatic actors are Michael Caine, as the Four Horseman’s financial backer, and Morgan Freeman, as a professional illusion debunker.

The entire cast put in strong, but altogether tried and tested, performances. Jesse Eisenberg is teetering on the edge of one-trick-pony territory with the portrayal of a smug and arrogant genius; Woody Harrelson is in his element as the washed-up, likeable asshole; Morgan Freeman does his best God impression; and it feels like, once again, we are watching Michael Caine play himself. It is not as though any of these performances are bad, it just feels like we’ve seen this all before.

The chemistry between Mark Ruffalo, as the cynical FBI agent, and Mélanie Laurent, as the open-minded Interpol agent, was evident. But they, like the rest, suffer from there being simply too many characters. The majority of them are fairly interesting but, in trying to flaunt them all, none are given enough screen time to really shine. Coupled with a script that is heavy on plot and exposition, with enough space for a witty quip or two, and the characters are left disappointingly flat.

Ultimately though, this film is the kind that succeeds or fails on its ability to excite and entertain. No stranger to the action genre, director Louis Leterrier (The Transporter, The Incredible Hulk, Clash of the Titans) delivers a high-octane film that looks and feels as slick as a slight of hand card trick. While lacking in substance and depth, at no point did I feel bored. A few plot holes and moments of implausibility can be forgiven in a well paced story that twists and turns. Action sequences look and sound great, there is even the obligatory car chase, and you may, ever so slightly, feel yourself edging forward in your seat during the elaborate sequences where the magician’s tricks are exposed.

Yes, ultimately the film is shallow, trivial and won’t win any awards for originality, but I found it thoroughly enjoyable nonetheless. Now You See Me is like your average street magic, it won’t really put you under a spell, but it will leave you with a smile on your face.

Glenn Caldecott

 

115 mins
12A (see IFCO website for details)
 Now You See Me is released on 3rd July 2013

Now You See Me – Official Website

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8MHDYZJWLXA

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Cinema Review: Paradise: Love

paradise-love

DIR: Ulrich Seidl • WRI: Ulrich Seidl, , Veronika Franz • PRO: Philippe Bober, Christine Ruppert, Ulrich Seidl • DOP: Edward Lachman, Wolfgang Thaler • ED: Christof Schertenleib • DES: Andreas Donhauser, Renate Martin • Cast: Margarete Tiesel, Peter Kazungu, Inge Maux

 

The first in his trilogy of Paradise films each focusing on a different woman from the same family, Ulrich Seidl’s ironically titled Paradise: Love follows Teresa, a 50-year-old divorcee who travels to Kenya as a sex-tourist.

The opening scene establishes the film as one not afraid to challenge its audience on what they find embarrassing or distasteful. The alleged cause of mass walk-outs, Teresa overlooks a group with Down syndrome enjoying a bumper car ride. While fundamentally inoffensive, acute close-ups and sharp editing creates a profound sense of guilt as we are drawn into thinking it funny or grotesque. Having no further bearing on the plot, the scene sets the tone for the forced discomfort that is to follow.

To escape her hollow life in Austria, Teresa ships her daughter off to fat-camp, a story to be explored in Paradise: Hope, and packs her bags for the sun, sea and sex of coastal Kenya. Paradise: Love’s ‘paradise’ is a warped one, as is its mocking depiction of love. On the white sandy beaches, shirtless African men stand with trinkets and jewellery behind a rope separating them from a row of tanning white women. As we soon learn, it is more than just their wares they are selling. Initially encouraged by her lewd pals, Teresa gets involved with the local boys who sell sex and love for financial favours.

How aware Teresa initially is of the whole arrangement, and indeed how convinced we are of her proclamations that its true love that she desires, are left to speculation. Those expecting a didactic tale that holds you by the hand will find a film that leaves its audience to draw their own conclusions.

What is indisputable however is the unflinching audacity with which Seidl approaches the subject of sex. In a long, improvised scene that echoes Seidl’s earlier film, Import/Export, the women hire a young male to strip and perform sexual acts that descends into them chastising him when he cannot get aroused.

Even for those not easily offended, Paradise: Love will make for uncomfortable viewing, and it is not just the gratuitous amount of overweight, naked fiftysomethings, or its use of humiliation, that makes it so. Every aspect of the film seems orchestrated to unnerve, to embarrass. The cinematography by Ed Lachman and Wolfgang Thaler is impressive in the sense that it achieves just that with carefully framed, drawn out shots of people staring into the camera, into your soul. It all amounts to the feeling of a younger sibling jabbing you in the side asking, “Are you uncomfortable yet, are you uncomfortable yet?”, over and over. But of course, that is its intention. The question is what does this achieve, and is there enough else to like to make your ordeal worth it?

Well, the film features brave and engaging performances by both Margarete Tiesel and the largely amateur African cast. Seidl’s obsession with tableaux shines through with some imposing images, such as the reoccurring shot of the men on the beach, and there is also a surprising undercurrent of humour that is enough to break up the seriousness of the subject but not, I’m afraid, the discomfort.

In its exploration of the parasitic, the film dupes us into thinking we know the direction of exploitation, only for our attitudes to evolve with Teresa’s relationships with the young men. However I can’t help thinking that, besides raising awareness of these mutually exploitative relationships, there are few points made, leaving us with little reward for our work. There could be more to be said about the relationship between love, sex and appearance, but these concepts are pushed aside in the pursuit of confrontation.

The Paradise trilogy was originally planned as one film, but was dissected when it was thought the parallel stories were unconnected. What results is a relentless film that will interest some but leave others more interested in their nearest exit.

 

Glenn Caldecott

 

120 mins

Paradise: Love is released on 14th June 2013

 

 

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