Thursday, February 26, 2015

Voice Over

Voice Over played in Lincoln Center’s Film Comment Selects 2015 series on March 3.

Voice Over sketches a portrait of an upper-middle-class family in Chile, flitting from one highly charged plot point to the next (a birth, a funeral, an illicit affair, the dissolution of a marriage) without probing too deeply into any of the characters or feelings involved. That can make it feel a bit like an upscale soap opera, as beautiful sisters Sofia (Ingrid Isensee) and Ana (María José Siebald), their flawless skin generally lit to a caramel glow, speculate in upscale settings about other members of their family, with an occasional break to have sex (Sofia with an inappropropriate boyfriend; Ana with a blandly supportive husband) or take care of their children.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

The Golden Era

The Golden Era will play in Lincoln Center’s Film Comment Selects 2015 series on March 1.

"I can't tell if anyone will read my stuff later. But I'm quite sure that the gossip about me will go on and on," laments writer Xioa Hong (Wei Tang) on her deathbed. Ironically, despite pointedly registering that complaint, The Golden Era does just what she dreads. Shunting her writing to the side to focus on her tragic love life and early death, Ann Hui's film reduces an intriguing sounding woman—one who, by the film's own account, made a name for herself as a writer without conforming to conventional mores, either about how to write or how to behave—to a Camille-like figure of pity, picturesquely tubercular, ill-used by men, and admirable mainly for the gallantry with which she faced an avalanche of bad luck.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

100 Words on ... My Man Godfrey

As daffy Park Avenue princess Irene Bullock, Carole Lombard sometimes veers from comically disarming child-woman to annoying brat, but her character’s wide-open innocence is the perfect foil for the guarded grace of William Powell’s Godfrey in this shimmery, silver-and-black Deco dream. Characters are deftly revealed or reformed as Godfrey leaves a camp for homeless men to be the butler—and the voice of reason—for Irene’s pampered, “nutty” family. Helped by a stellar supporting cast (this film was the first to get Oscar nominations in all four acting categories), director Gregory La Cava, who started his career in animation, maintains an atmosphere of controlled chaos, whether he’s packing the frame with a roiling mass of bad behavior or homing in on Godfrey and Irene as they play out their improbable, inevitable courtship.

Written for The L Magazine

Monday, February 9, 2015

Gett: The Trial of Viviane Amsalem

Gett: The Trial of Viviane Amsalem is part of a recent spate of excellent films about—and often by—Israeli women, including Zero Motivation, S#x Acts, and Jellyfish. But while those others feature situations that could easily have played out in any industrialized Western nation, Gett's Viviane Amsalem (Ronit Elkabetz) is trapped by misogynistic religious laws that feel shockingly archaic.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Seventh Son

Time-lapse photography, a bombastic soundtrack, and a swirling 3D camera partial to taking aerial shots of mountaintops and whooshing down into underground prisons are just some of the tools Seventh Son employs to grab audiences—and that's just in the first one or two minutes. In one scene, smoke appears as if it might spill right into the movie theater, but director Sergei Bodrov mostly uses the 3D format as a way of heightening the effect of scary things flying rapidly across the screen. And if you've seen one witch transform herself into a dragon and swoop toward the camera, you've seen them all, so by the third or fourth time you may find yourself thinking how much more lifelike Peter Jackson's Smaug felt, or how much scarier that flying-cloud-of-smoke effect was when it depicted Dementors in the Harry Potter films.

100 Words on ... The Palm Beach Story

Gerry (Claudette Colbert) is a gloriously self-assured young beauty whose determination to leave her husband for someone who can keep her in ball gowns and diamonds would be hateful if she weren’t so matter-of-fact about it—and so in love with the comically earnest hunk (Joel McCrea). With Robert Dudley as a cranky but lovable old millionaire, William Demarest and a gaggle of other distinctive character actors as the rowdy members of the Ale and Quail club, and Rudy Vallee as a sweet nerd who just happens to be one of the richest men in the country, Gerry has plenty of suitors. She spars with them gently, sparkling with game merriment and irrepressible joie de vivre in this cheery raspberry to marriage and other pious institutions.    Written for The L Magazine